Wikipedia talk:Reference desk

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Are all questions about the human body requests for medical advice?[edit]

On 11 April a User posted the following question on the Science Reference Desk: I wonder if taking a multivitamin with peanut butter will inhibit absorption of the vitamins since it is so thick and will get stuck in it, is this accurate? I chew up the multivitamin. See the diff

At least one very sound answer was given in reply. See the diff. Sadly, User Baseball Bugs considered the question was a request for medical advice. BB terminated the discussion and hid the question and its answers from the view of other readers of the Science Desk. See the diff.

BB’s action raises a question: Are all questions about the human body requests for medical advice? Or is it possible use the Science Desk to post a question about the human body without that question being construed as a request for medical advice? I think the answer is "Yes, it is possible to ask a question about the human body without it being a request for medical advice."

If I am wrong and if questions about the human body are requests for medical advice, Wikipedia’s advice at WP:MEDICAL should be significantly altered to make this advice more open and more honest. Dolphin (t) 13:35, 13 April 2018 (UTC)

Nope, just those that ask about a proper course of action regarding one's medical condition. Saying "By what mechanism does this medicine work in the body" is probably fine, saying "should I eat this food with this medicine and what will happen to me if I do" is not. Note that requests for advice do not need to be phrased in the first person. Questions about "asking for a friend" or "just curious" rationales, or using words like "someone" in place of "I" do not obviate requests for advice, and such breaching experiments are frowned upon. --Jayron32 13:48, 13 April 2018 (UTC)
A medical student asking for references for a research paper on whether or not different foods affects absorption of vitamins (chewed or swallowed) is using the refdesk for exactly what it was intended for. However, we really have no idea why anyone asks any question, but assuming good faith, we can make cautious guesses from their phrasing. If someone phrases the question "should I chew my vitamins? is it OK to take them with peanut butter?" then we're not really in any position to imagine it's a medical student looking for a reference. If someone phrases it "is there any information on whether taking a vitamin with food (such as peanut butter) will inhibit absorption, especially if the vitamin is chewed?" -- then it's a hypothetical and "not" medical advice.
If we were to update WP:MEDICAL to be more "honest," we'd have it say "phrase your requests for medical advice as requests for references because we legally cannot give out medical advice." But that presents a bit of a legal contradiction, so we don't do that just like we don't ask where/how editors get copies of their sources. Ian.thomson (talk) 14:07, 13 April 2018 (UTC)
  • There is a perennial two-fold problem with enforcing RD guidelines (unlikely to change after a disingenuous talk page thread with a strawman title).
Part of the problem is that some rules are a fairly thin line. For example, here, I would speculate that had the sentence I chew up the multivitamin been dropped from the original request, it would not have been considered a request for medical advice (at least without a follow-up question asking why the question was asked). Short of radically changing the RD guidelines (which I do not see happening, either because of the political feasibility or because of the lack of obvious alternatives), this will never be fully solved.
There is another part to the problem, though, which I believe to be solvable. It is the culture of enforcers and counter-enforcers and the associated bickering (the current thread, of course, is an example of that; the problem is not that some people see the rules as more comprehensive than others, but that either side will aggressively push their interpretation). That is purely negative, because it does not even produce a sound jurisprudence about what should or should not be closed and what is debatable. Exhibit A is the recent "god" thread which I closed almost three days after it was opened and where seven regular contributors had left their opinions (the problem is not that said opinions were meritless, but that the thread clearly and obviously failed the RD guidelines and should have been closed much sooner; I venture the toxicity of rule enforcement discouraged others from doing so). TigraanClick here to contact me 14:15, 13 April 2018 (UTC)
It's weird, however, that an innocent general interest question about how digestion works is fine, but if you happen to mention what inspired you to ask the question (as one does), then it's strictly forbidden.
It makes things into an unfriendly minefield of rules that newcomers can't be expected to know.
The currently enforced rules are the results of awkward compromises between the regulars, and not really any self-evident truth about what is or is not medical advice.
(However, I'll admit I don't have a suggestion on a way forward that doesn't result in either bitter disputes, or more absurd compromises.) ApLundell (talk) 22:22, 13 April 2018 (UTC)
If the user Matt Deres wants to unbox that question, I would certainly not object. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 00:50, 14 April 2018 (UTC)
LOL, I certainly don't, but that's hardly a fair standard :-). The way I interpret these things is like this: we shouldn't give advice of any kind, ever. This isn't the advice desk. However, being a hardcase about that would just be stultifying and there'd be all kinds of grey areas anyway. Where I try to draw the line is broadly in accordance with the RD's guideline that we do not offer advice that is regulated, like medical and legal advice. (And, to be fair, I don't think our guidelines go far enough; I've seen some advice regarding chemical and electrical interactions that made my hair stand on end, but I knew they were technically "okay" per the guidelines (just terribly risky) and so I kept silent). With this specific item, asking about the interaction between foods and drugs is perfectly fine (and full of interesting stuff), but asking about whether something is healthful to that person is clearly a request for advice regarding treatment, which is forbidden by our guidelines here. Matt Deres (talk) 23:58, 14 April 2018 (UTC)
I boxed it up on your implicit recommendation, which I agree with. Anytime someone asks whether it's OK to do this, that or the other thing regarding their own bodily well-being, the only proper advice we can ethically give is, "If you're concerned, see your doctor." ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 00:24, 15 April 2018 (UTC)
There are two overriding and unbreachable principles to take into account, which are a) the medical marketplace has a powerful lobby, and b) lobbyists always win. Any attempt to stand for some kind of academic common sense will only lead to yet another tedious and massive effort to have the Refdesk banned; indeed, it can only be a matter of time before Wikipedia as a whole is banned for failing to fit into the appropriate character of the corporate marketplace of ideas. Inherently, they come with price tags. It doesn't matter at all that there isn't actually a market in questions about vitamins; nor that even, say, a certain woman I know who spent $8000 a year on insurance and cancer can expect to be hustled out of a doctor's office with barely 15 minutes of total consultation so that she never seems to know what medicines she is supposed to take when, let alone gets a chance to ask about anything interesting. The point is, the tawdry reality of corporate doctors-for-hire needs to be covered up with a Hollywood veil of the Responsible Physician to whom one turns for every little thing, even though you will never really have the chance to. It's our duty, to fit into the capitalist order, to ensure people do not get advice here, there, or anywhere, and do what everyone else does, and guesses at random. Wnt (talk) 03:01, 15 April 2018 (UTC)
No one here is qualified to give medical advice. As to your complaints about the medical profession, Wikipedia is not the place to "right great wrongs". ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 03:42, 15 April 2018 (UTC)
My thanks to all who have posted a reply on this thread. Your replies have helped me gain a better view of the situation.
My current thoughts are along these lines. Wikipedia understandably cannot condone medical advice being posted on the Reference Desks. Wikipedia’s position on the matter is given at WP:MEDICAL where it says WIKIPEDIA DOES NOT GIVE MEDICAL ADVICE.
Wikipedia may object to answers given on the Reference Desks if those answers constitute medical advice. However, Wikipedia does not object to the question. If a thread is to be hidden it must be because at least one of the answers constitutes medical advice. A thread should not be hidden simply because someone objects to the question.
By the time BB boxed the thread, several answers to the question had been given. BB could have attempted to justify his action by reference to those answers, explaining how they constituted medical advice. Instead, he justified boxing the thread by pointing to Matt Deres’s objection to the question. (Wikipedia cannot object to the question, especially as it is innocent and asked in good faith.)
Unless someone can point to one of the answers and persuasively argue that it constitutes medical advice, the thread should be unboxed. Wikipedia has no objection to the question so should not use the question as grounds for censorship. Dolphin (t) 11:56, 15 April 2018 (UTC)
The question was a request for medical advice. As such, it was potentially subject to deletion. Would you have preferred that I deleted it? ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 15:13, 15 April 2018 (UTC)
So your idea of persuasive argument is: "X is true because...I say it's true." Very impressive. ―Mandruss  15:20, 15 April 2018 (UTC)
No, Matt Deres said it was true, and I agreed. He can unbox it if he wants to. But he's already said no. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 15:28, 15 April 2018 (UTC)
@Dolphin51: We have a note at the top of each refdesk that says "We don't answer (and may remove) questions that require medical diagnosis or legal advice." Wikipedia does object to the question if it is asking for medical (or legal) advice. Ian.thomson (talk) 15:50, 15 April 2018 (UTC)
Ian.thomson is paraphrasing what is stated at the top of each refdesk when he says “... if it is asking for medical ... advice ...” It actually says “... questions that require medical diagnosis ...” On this thread, no-one has suggested that the original question requires medical diagnosis; and none of the answers looks anything like a medical diagnosis.
There have been a couple of suggestions that the question is asking for medical advice but I don’t see anything to substantiate the notion that a question will be removed if it is “asking for medical advice.”
My earlier post can now be interpreted that if a question clearly and uncontroversially requires medical diagnosis it can be removed. If a question does not clearly require medical diagnosis, or the nature of the question is controversial, people should wait and see what sort of answer is being supplied. If the answers don’t constitute medical advice, the question shouldn’t be removed, at least not until medical advice comes on the scene. Similarly, if a mature thread is to be hidden, the person taking action must be able to point at the answers and argue persuasively that one or more of these answers constitute medical advice. BB has not offered any substantive explanation as to why he boxed the thread. He hasn’t made any attempt to point to an answer that constitutes medical advice; nor has he made any attempt to argue that the question requires medical diagnosis.
If I am wrong, someone will be able to point at one of the answers and argue persuasively that it is medical advice, or is based on a medical diagnosis.
I think some of us are making useful observations and gaining valuable insights by analysing the issues raised in this thread. Dolphin (t) 12:13, 16 April 2018 (UTC)

User:Dolphin51, I am assuming good faith with both hands at this point. I am certain that it was mere carelessness that caused you to set up a ridiculous straw man argument as the title for this section and to forget to ping Bugs or myself or anyone else who took part in that thread and to now cause your vision to blur after reading half of the relevant sentence from our guidelines. I'll quote it directly here: "The reference desk is not a place to seek professional advice on medical or legal matters, and responses that could be construed as such must not be given. Any question that solicits a diagnosis, a prognosis, or a suggested treatment is a request for medical advice." (emphases in original). The key word there in this regard is treatment; providing advice regarding treatment is considered medical advice. Matt Deres (talk) 14:49, 16 April 2018 (UTC)

I don't think you're assuming good faith at all. ApLundell (talk) 23:38, 16 April 2018 (UTC)
Dolphin may well be acting in good faith. He's simply got it wrong.Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 00:08, 17 April 2018 (UTC)
Well if you say so, it must be true. Thanks for clearing that up! ApLundell (talk) 02:04, 17 April 2018 (UTC)
I and several others say it's true. And you're welcome. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 02:10, 17 April 2018 (UTC)
Nonetheless, a multivitamin is not a drug but a nutritional supplement. It is not prescribed for a disease but purchased at whim by a consumer. Failure to take it will not cause harm, failure to take it correctly will not usually do harm, unless you shove the pill somewhere very creative. This argument will be won the way that all arguments everywhere in the world are won, based on blustering warnings and the fact that might is right, but it has nothing to do with the meaningless text of Wikipedia policies. Wnt (talk) 14:50, 17 April 2018 (UTC)

Hi Matt Deres. Thanks for assuming good faith, and for providing the quote. I hadn’t seen those words before but I went looking and found them at WP:RD/G/M. The brief sentence I quoted is the full extent of what is written at the top of the Science Ref Desk.

On 13 April I pinged Baseball Bugs because he is the User who actually boxed (censored) the thread. I concede that, on that occasion, I didn’t ping anyone else.

I also concede that the title I gave the section is a straw man. Whether it is ridiculous or attention-getting is in the eye of the beholder. However, be careful not to say too much on the subject of the straw man because I and others are likely to say to ourselves “Despite the many hundreds of words Dolphin has written on this thread, the criticism coming from Matt Deres is primarily about the title Dolphin gave to the thread at the time he started it.”

A view I have expressed a couple of times is that if a question is clearly or uncontroversially in breach of the guidelines WP provides to people thinking of posting a question, someone should take action against that question. But if the unreasonableness of the question is unclear, or the view that it is unreasonable is likely to be controversial, no action should be taken against the question. Instead, we should wait and see what sort of answer comes along. Taking action against this question about multivitamins and peanut butter was bound to prove controversial - take a look at the length of this thread after only four days! That proves it is controversial.

Baseball Bugs has struggled to explain why he boxed the thread but it appears to have been based on your view of the question. I don’t recall either you or BB attempting to take account of the actual answers provided up to the time of censorship, even though multiple answers are available. If none of the answers constitutes medical advice, what is the risk in leaving the thread unboxed?

The guidelines say much against answers that constitute medical advice, and they advise how to take action against an answer that constitutes such advice; but the guidelines say almost nothing about censoring a question that might, arguably, bring forth medical advice. So can you quote what part of the guidelines you are relying upon when you advocate boxing (censoring) the whole thread, including multiple answers, because of your objection to the original question? Dolphin (t) 15:42, 17 April 2018 (UTC)

I haven't struggled at all. Matt Deres said it's a request for medical advice, and I agreed and immediately boxed it. Boxing it is not censorship. Deleting and rev-del'ing it would be censorship. If Matt or Ian want to revert my boxing of it, that's fine. And if multivitamins are not a "drug", then why do they appear on my doctor's list of medications that I take? Wnt's hatred of the medical profession is well-known. And I take the supplement because a doctor told me to. I'll take my doctor's word over Wnt's anytime. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 19:54, 17 April 2018 (UTC)

Hi Baseball Bugs. Thanks for your prompt reply.

Matt Deres led me to some comprehensive and useful guidance material at WP:RD/G/M. This guidance material includes (in bold text):

All reference desk editors are volunteer contributors who are subject to existing Wikipedia guidelines, …
  • Comment: Those of us who edit on the reference desks are subject to existing Wikipedia guidelines.

These guidelines also contain very detailed guidance regarding questions that may be asking for medical advice:

Dealing with questions asking for medical advice: Generally speaking, answers are more likely to be sanctioned than questions.
The purpose is to minimise disruption: editors disagree over whether a question is seeking medical advice, and removing the whole question is discouraging for new contributors.
Therefore, most of the time, the responsibility lies with responders not to give medical advice, regardless of the question.
When answering a question that appears to be soliciting medical advice, outright removal of the question is discouraged.
Although removal of questions is discouraged, …

I have looked carefully at all these guidelines and come to the conclusion that Wikipedia’s action in boxing the thread called “Peanut butter” is inconsistent with the guidelines.

I notice that on 14th April you wrote that you would not object to the thread being unboxed, provided the user Matt Deres agrees. You boxed the thread and you alone are responsible for your actions. Agreement by Matt Deres or anyone else cannot be made a pre-requisite for Wikipedia to act consistently with its own guidelines.

People posting questions on the Reference Desks, and Users answering those questions, are entitled to assume that Wikipedia will respect its own guidelines and act consistently with them. It is my opinion that boxing of the thread called “Peanut butter” was not consistent with Wikipedia’s own guidelines so I will remove the boxing. Dolphin (t) 13:06, 18 April 2018 (UTC)

I have unboxed the thread. See the diff. Dolphin (t) 13:16, 18 April 2018 (UTC)
Why is your opinion superior to everyone else's? ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 13:26, 18 April 2018 (UTC)
Nowhere did I say my opinion was superior to everyone else's. It is my opinion that action needed to be taken to right a wrong that was an embarrassment to Wikipedia. WP:BOLD encourages me to do so. Dolphin (t) 13:31, 18 April 2018 (UTC)
How is enforcement of the "no medical advice" rule an "embarrassment" to Wikipedia? ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 17:47, 18 April 2018 (UTC)
Wikipedia publishes guidelines about editing the Reference Desks in general, and in particular on the subject of medical advice. Wikipedia gives an undertaking to act at all times in accordance with its guidelines, and expects all Users who edit on the Reference Desks to respect those guidelines. If boxing of the thread titled “Peanut butter” was not done in accordance with Wikipedia’s published guidelines, that would be an embarrassment to Wikipedia.
Wikipedia is readily able to create new guidelines and amend existing ones. If the Reference Desk community finds that a set of guidelines is inadequate or unreasonable, that community can discuss the matter, find consensus and amend the guidelines. It isn’t appropriate for Users to work around the guidelines or ignore them.
If you find the guidelines at WP:RD/G/M don’t match your vision of how the “no medical advice rule” should operate, I encourage you to raise the matter on Wikipedia talk:Reference desk/Guidelines/Medical advice and present your case for the guidelines to be amended. Dolphin (t) 04:14, 19 April 2018 (UTC)
I'm on the same page as at least three editors here. Maybe it's you that needs to take that advice. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 05:16, 19 April 2018 (UTC)
The question is not a medical question as it refers to multivitamins and not to some disease or a set of symptoms of the OP for which treatment or diagnosis is asked. Many people use multivitamins, and while they may be prescribed in case of certain diseases, it's not regarded as a medicine. Also the official medical advice that doctors are instructed to give is that multivitamins are a waste of money. So, if we would give medical advice here, we would say that the OP should not worry about absorption, because he/she is going to excrete whatever is absorbed anyway. Count Iblis (talk) 01:17, 20 April 2018 (UTC)
My doctor considers multivitamins to be a type of medication. And I'll take his word over any random, uninformed opinion here. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 02:13, 20 April 2018 (UTC)
But it's not typically used as medication. Anything besides prescription drugs can be a type of medication for certain patients. Diet, exercise, mental relaxation exercises, taking a vacation, it can all play a role in some healing process. Should we then close down a question on the Ref Desk about hotel bookings just because in theory it could be related to the OP having medical issues for which rest in the form of vacation has been prescribed and if that were the case the OP should consult his/her doctor? Count Iblis (talk) 02:36, 20 April 2018 (UTC)
It's "not regarded as medicine" because special interest groups have spent a lot of money and effort making it so. Between selling shark cartilage and very expensive urine to suckers, the last thing vitamin companies want is to be held to their claims of efficacy, purity, or safety. Your bizarre conflation of holiday trips to medical advice is a complete non sequitur. When someone comes on here asking if a trip to the Caymans is healthful, then sure, go ahead and shut the conversation down; I'll back you 100%. But until that occurs, why even bring it up? The world is a complicated enough place as it is without conjuring up these convoluted hypotheticals in the hopes that it will excuse us from abiding by our good-faith guidelines. If the questioner asks a question that impacts their own health by way of diagnosis, prognosis or treatment, we politely shut it down. It's really not that hard. Matt Deres (talk) 13:27, 20 April 2018 (UTC)
But experience here shows that the way we go about things here (as opposed to other very reputable websites like StackExchange) does make things quite hard for us. The real world is more complex than what can be captured well in a few rules, attempting to do so can cause problems. In this case, an OP may casually mention their health while its not an essential part of the question. Whether diagnosis is an essential part of the question or not is a judgment call that itself can't be captured well in a set of a few rules. Most other websites go about this by letting the posters make their own judgment. Experience shows that this leads to far less friction among a far larger group of posters than what we see here. What I see on those other sites is that if a question is closed on the grounds that answering the question would constitute giving medical advice, then it's always the case that the OP deciding to get an appointment with the doctor to discuss that question, would sound like a very appropriate thing to do.
In contrast, what I see here quite often is that it closed questions are typically not things you can get a doctors appointment on. Where I live, you have to explain why you want to get a doctors appointment, discussing vitamin absorption is not a valid reason in itself. There has to be a physical complaint or an ongoing medical problem (e.g. malabsorption for which you are treated) and it's in the context of such a medical problem that your request to see a doctor may be approved. Otherwise, you may actually get referred to Dr. Google.
So, the way we go about dealing with these sorts of questions is inconsistent with the way society on these issues actually works and that's where all the trouble is coming from. Count Iblis (talk) 20:55, 21 April 2018 (UTC)


Matt Deres: You say “.. if it impacts their own health .. we shut it down.” That is not what is stated in the relevant guideline, and you know it. The guidelines discourage removal of questions (except perhaps in extreme circumstances.) It is clear that the guidelines fall well short of your expectations in this area. The legitimate way to deal with that is for you to raise the matter in the appropriate forum and argue your case for some changes to the guidelines. When you do what you are presently doing, you aren’t implementing Wikipedia’s published guidelines, you are implementing your own secret rule.

In one of my previous edits I asked if you can quote the part of the guidelines that you are relying upon when you advocate censorship or blocking of a question and all its answers on the grounds that you object to the question. No-one has attempted to supply such a quote from the guidelines. Dolphin (t) 21:51, 20 April 2018 (UTC)

Dolphin51 And that is also not what I am saying. When you ellipse the important part of someone's post, it's easier to argue with them, though, isn't it? "Diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment" are all there listed in our list of enumerated guidelines. You know, the ones people keep linking for you, but you seemingly haven't read? Again: "Any question that solicits a diagnosis, a prognosis, or a suggested treatment is a request for medical advice..." And in that very same bullet point, it tells us "Questions that ask for medical, legal or other professional advice may be removed and replaced with a message (such as
This question has been removed. Per the reference desk guidelines, the reference desk is not an appropriate place to request medical, legal or other professional advice, including any kind of medical diagnosis, prognosis, or treatment recommendations. For such advice, please see a qualified professional. If you don't believe this is such a request, please explain what you meant to ask, either here or on the Reference Desk's talk page.

This question has been removed. Per the reference desk guidelines, the reference desk is not an appropriate place to request medical, legal or other professional advice, including any kind of medical diagnosis or prognosis, or treatment recommendations. For such advice, please see a qualified professional. If you don't believe this is such a request, please explain what you meant to ask, either here or on the Reference Desk's talk page. --~~~~

) pointing to these guidelines. For further information, see Wikipedia:Reference desk/Guidelines/Medical advice." As a matter of courtesy it has become habit to box ("hat") the questions up rather than removing them immediately. Should the people objecting to the removal succeed in proving their point, it's easier to unbox ("unhat") the question than to restore it from scratch because it helps preserve internal links (such as from your list of contributions). However, if you feel outright removal is better, I'm prepared to discuss that. Matt Deres (talk) 22:29, 20 April 2018 (UTC)

Thanks Matt. This is just a brief, interim response. When BB blocked the thread titled “ peanut butter”, did he notify the User who posted the original question? Did he notify the Users who had posted answers to the question? Did he leave a note of his action on the Reference Desk Talk page? As far as I can see, he did none of these things. These are just three examples of how this blocking process has evolved - outside of the guidelines and paying little respect to the guidelines. More later. Dolphin (t) 22:48, 20 April 2018 (UTC)

Matt Deres: I see the problem. Unfortunately, the word “may” has more than one meaning. In some applications, the word “may” is stating a likelihood: “Stroll without an umbrella and you may get wet.” In other applications, the word “may” is granting a permission: “You may now kiss the bride.” Whenever we see the word “may” we need to ask ourselves whether it is being used to state a likelihood, or to grant a permission. These two applications can be confused with hilarious results: “Valuables left unattended may be stolen” – this is NOT granting a permission!

You have quoted from a general guidance document, WP:RD/G, What the reference desk is not: “Questions that ask for medical, legal or other professional advice may be removed and replaced with a message (such as RD-deleted) pointing to these guidelines.” This sentence uses the word “may”. We need to be very careful when deciding whether this is granting a permission or stating a likelihood.

WP:RD/G/M is less of a general guidance document. It more closely focuses on the problem of medical advice. Its lede para says “Questions that appear to be soliciting medical, legal or other professional advice, or answers that give the impression of providing such, should be dealt with as described below.” When we look below to see how we should deal with these things, we find a comprehensive section titled Dealing with questions asking for medical advice. This section comprehensively provides the operating instructions, the rules of engagement, by which Users should deal with questions asking for medical advice. This section grants all the permissions necessary for Users to deal with these questions. In these guidelines, no permissions are granted other than in this section. The unmistakeable theme of this section is that removal of questions is discouraged. It includes two vitally important pieces of advice:

  • “Note the removal of the question by posting the diff on the Talk page of the Reference desk.”
  • “Consider leaving a note on the user Talk page of the person who posted the question, explaining that we cannot offer medical advice.”

Now, let’s leave the section titled Dealing with questions asking for medical advice and return to the more general guidelines WP:RD/G to the section titled What the reference desk is not. This section does indeed use the expression “may be removed” but it says nothing about:

  • Noting the removal by posting the diff on the Talk page of the Reference desk, or
  • Considering leaving a note on the Talk page of the person who posted the question.

What the reference desk is not says nothing about "removal of questions is discouraged".

Considering the granting of permissions necessary for dealing with questions asking for medical advice, these are all bundled together in one section (titled Dealing with questions asking for medical advice.) Would the wise folks who constructed these guidelines have granted one extra permission but placed it in a separate document (a more general document) in a section titled What the reference desk is not? Would these wise folk grant a separate permission that is remote from important information such as "removal of questions is discouraged", and "make a note on the Ref desk Talk page"? That would be a most unprofessional and unacceptable thing to do! All permissions should be bundled together in one place.

There is only one reasonable interpretation of all this, namely that where the section titled What the reference desk is not says “may be removed” it is stating a likelihood, not granting a permission. Your interpretation is legally naïve. All actions to be taken against questions and answers that look like medical advice must be done in accordance with the permissions granted in WP:RD/G/M in the section titled Dealing with questions asking for medical advice.

There is another observation that reinforces my view. At the top of every Reference desk there are four bulleted pieces of advice aimed at would-be posters of questions. The first says “We don't answer (and may remove) questions that require medical diagnosis or legal advice.” Here again we see the expression “and may remove”. The word “may” is used to state a likelihood, not to grant a permission to would-be posters of questions. Permission to remove a question is only granted at WP:RD/G/M in the section titled Dealing with questions asking for medical advice. Dolphin (t) 13:02, 21 April 2018 (UTC)

The problem isn't with the word "may". The problem is with the attitude that we're operating on a system of permissions and laws here; that there's some authority that has the power to punish, and that we must cow-tow to that authority by seeking permission to do something. That's not how we work. What we have is a system of agreed-upon best practices, that we're all responsible for abiding by. There is no authority at Wikipedia. There is only the community, it's standards, and the encyclopedia it is building. --Jayron32 14:02, 23 April 2018 (UTC)
My objective in starting this thread on 13 April has now been achieved. I have a much better understanding of the background to the process of removing questions and answers from view on the Science Reference Desk. I am now able to propose some changes to WP:RD/G to improve the way Wikipedia deals with questions that require a medical diagnosis. I will do so on a new thread that I will start on this Ref desk Talk page.
I am grateful to all Users who participated in the discussions on this page, and I sincerely thank all of you.
I have now finished on this thread and, as far as I am concerned, it can be marked "Done". However, I see Count Iblis has made a recent posting so he may wish to keep the thread open. If there are no new postings in the next day or two I will mark it "Done". Dolphin (t) 13:51, 22 April 2018 (UTC)

Question removed[edit]

I removed a question that was a request for debate over ethics. Ian.thomson (talk) 19:58, 16 April 2018 (UTC)

It's a justifiable removal. The OP could have easily used Google to find various opinions on it. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 00:07, 17 April 2018 (UTC)
That's a pretty remarkable statement coming from an RD regular. Your first response to pretty much every question we get is "what have you found via Google so far?" Now you're saying we should go even further and delete any questions for which the answer can be found via Google. That would lead to a pretty empty ref desk page. As for the question itself, it was badly worded but certainly not worthy of deletion or even hatting. A better form of wording would have been "what ethical debates have occurred in the scientific community around the cloning of pets?" --Viennese Waltz 14:38, 20 April 2018 (UTC)
I agree the question was inappropriate, though I thought we generally boxed those up rather than removed them? Since the user was blocked (for block evasion), I guess it's just semantics. Matt Deres (talk) 01:00, 17 April 2018 (UTC)
That was a couple of years ago. Hard to know for sure if it's the same actual guy. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 01:41, 17 April 2018 (UTC)
Boxing up has proven undesirable, since it reminds resident trolls who have a compulsion to violate accepted norms that a question was inappropriate, and they now MUST ANSWER THAT QUESTION, and start long, pointless fights here on the talk page to DEMAND THAT WE STOP CENSORING PEOPLE and the like. If we just delete the question, there's much less chance of encouraging such disruption. The problem usually just goes away then. --Jayron32 14:27, 20 April 2018 (UTC)
Removal is better, except you run afoul of users who hate to have their precious gems deleted, even if it's a response to a banned user. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 19:59, 20 April 2018 (UTC)
I personally do not recommend Google. Google is too broad. Instead of Google, try Opposing Viewpoints in Context. This service is provided by US libraries and lists various social issues with for and against positions. Very handy. If you just google it, then research becomes very tedious. If the issue is highly controversial, then a random website that pops up in the first-page search results will just point you or persuade you to that side. I also recommend EbscoHost, but mainly for peer-reviewed journals and articles. In other words, Google sucks. Google Scholar is better, but that's mainly good for searching for references. Actual databases require you to do a database search, preferably EbscoHost or WorldCat. Of course, a library membership grants you access to the actual articles, or if not, you can request the article through Interlibrary Loan (ILL). I also recommend Kanopy, another library-supported service, because it provides informative videos on various topics. For example, there are videos that persuade you in the pro-choice side, and there are videos that persuade you in the pro-life side, giving more balanced coverage. SSS (talk) 15:36, 20 April 2018 (UTC)
What sources recommended to you that we should prohibit people consuming caffeine? ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 18:41, 20 April 2018 (UTC)
I think my tone of voice in that paragraph led you believe that "we" should prohibit people consuming caffeine. A whiny voice is always going to perceived as being argumentative. Can you just leave it alone? SSS (talk) 19:27, 20 April 2018 (UTC)
That would be the same tone of voice implying that people don't have the right to call themselves by whatever name they want to. You did well by removing your caffeine section. You could also do well by removing your names question. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 19:47, 20 April 2018 (UTC)
Done. SSS (talk) 20:02, 20 April 2018 (UTC)

Proposed change to Reference desk Guidelines[edit]

The guidelines at WP:RD/G contain a section titled What the reference desk is not. It contains five bulleted topics of explanation. The third bulleted topic is much larger than the other four and contains the following sentence:

Questions that ask for medical, legal or other professional advice may be removed and replaced with a message (such as RD-deleted) pointing to these guidelines.

I see two problems with this sentence so I am proposing that it be deleted. These problems are:

  1. The section is titled What the reference desk is not but this sentence doesn’t contain the word “reference” or the word “desk”. It contains procedural information, not explanation about what the reference desk is not. It says questions that ask for medical, legal or other professional advice are likely to be removed and replaced with a message, but this statement has nothing to do with what the reference desk is not. The necessary procedural information is comprehensively covered at WP:RD/G/M. Deletion of the sentence will not diminish the extent to which this bulleted topic explains what the reference desk is not.
  2. In recent discussions on this Talk page I have discovered that the sentence is misleading Users. Use of the expression "may be removed" has the appearance of granting a permission but, in fact, it is only stating a likelihood. All the permissions required for dealing with questions asking for medical advice are provided at WP:RD/G/M in the section titled Dealing with questions asking for medical advice. What is more important, several other considerations related to removing a question, such as notifying the person who posted the question; and "Also, note the removal of the question by posting the diff on the talk page of the Reference desk" are only found in the section titled Dealing with questions asking for medical advice. Some Users have been removing questions and answers without notifying anyone, and without noting the removal of the question on the Talk page of the Reference desk, believing this sentence in What the reference desk is not gives them permission to remove questions without regard for the considerations and procedural information published in Dealing with questions asking for medical advice.

I am interested to see if other Users have views on the above proposal. If not, I will make the deletion in a few days. Dolphin (t) 14:27, 22 April 2018 (UTC)

hmm. I would like to add a section called "what the reference desk IS". Anyone want to suggest content for that section? 86.8.201.80 (talk) 15:25, 22 April 2018 (UTC)
  • Oppose the above changes. Its fine, it is telling people that if they ask questions that violate our guidelines, they could be removed. "Permissions" misses the point entirely. We're all adults here, we're not asking for "permissions" as though we were little kids seeking to stay up an hour late. This is not a game, there are not rules we follow or need permission to do. We do what is best, we follow established guidelines, and we fix problems when they come up. There is no "permission" to remove a thread, there is just threads that need to be removed if they are against our guidelines, and anyone may simply do so. --Jayron32 12:24, 23 April 2018 (UTC)
Jayron32: You say "we follow established guidelines". I say "Some Users have been removing questions and answers without notifying anyone, and without noting the removal of the question on the Talk page of the Reference desk, ..." I can supply diffs if you wish. We like to think we all follow established guidelines at all times, but the truth is that it isn't happening at all times. I can supply diffs.
I'm not doubting that you and I and most of us follow established guidelines; but I am trying to fix the problem that causes some of us to violate those guidelines.
I say again in case you missed it - some of us are violating those guidelines. Does this concern you? I can supply diffs if you wish. Dolphin (t) 13:47, 23 April 2018 (UTC)
If we aren't notifying anyone or posting notice on T:RD, then we should be doing that. If you find that someone has forgotten to do so, you can just remind them. It's no big deal. You don't need to hunt diffs to shame people who may have forgotten. Just a little note when you see it happen. If its been months ago, well, that ship has sailed. If it was today, then either start the discussion yourself, or kindly remind them to leave the notice. --Jayron32 13:57, 23 April 2018 (UTC)
Jayron32: I'm pleased you acknowledge that we should be posting notice on T:RD and notifying people whose posts are being censored. I'm talking about people who appear to be defiant that they do not need to observe Dealing with questions asking for medical advice, found in WP:RD/G/M. This happened about two weeks ago and when I found what was happening I started the thread titled "Are all questions about the human body requests for medical advice?" You contributed. You can still see the thread at the top of this Talk page. I finally got to the bottom of it and found that at least one User genuinely and innocently believes he doesn't have to pay any attention to Dealing with questions asking for medical advice because he is relying on a sentence he has found in What the reference desk is not. His interpretation is clearly opportunistic, and it is legally naïve. The guidelines that you say "we follow" were seriously violated in this case. It appears to be a systemic problem, albeit sporadic. Dolphin (t) 14:29, 23 April 2018 (UTC)
Please note that there are editors like this one who do not require notification when their posts are removed. MarnetteD|Talk 14:02, 23 April 2018 (UTC)
Thanks MarnetteD. I agree with you! Dolphin (t) 14:31, 23 April 2018 (UTC)
I interpret "may be deleted" as "it's possible it will be deleted". Clearly, it's not always deleted. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 16:05, 23 April 2018 (UTC)
Thanks Bugs. That’s great news. So do I. I call this interpretation of the word “may” - stating a likelihood. I have looked carefully all over the Ref desks and the Guidelines, and I am convinced that, on the Ref desks, “may” is always stating a likelihood.
But the word “may” has another meaning that I call granting a permission: for example when the wedding celebrant says to the bridegroom “You may now kiss the bride”. This sentence is not about “it’s possible” or “it’s likely” - it’s granting a permission. Other examples of granting a permission are “You may leave the room” and “You may have another piece of cake.”
I have found one User who looks at the section titled “What the reference desk is not”, sees the sentence saying “Questions that ask for medical ... advice may be removed and replaced with a message ...”, and interprets this sentence as granting a permission, (an authorisation, encouragement etc.) and relies upon it for removing questions from the Ref desk without respecting the advice given at “Dealing with questions asking for medical advice” which is in another guidance document. That appears to be the root cause of this problem. Dolphin (t) 21:43, 23 April 2018 (UTC)
  • Oppose removing this sentence: "Questions that ask for medical, legal or other professional advice may be removed and replaced with a message (such as RD-deleted) pointing to these guidelines" from WP:RD/G. However, I agree that the auxiliary verb "may" can denote permission or possibility. Therefore, I ...
  • Support rewriting the question. If our intention is to denote possibility, the sentence should be rewritten to something like this: "Questions that ask for medical, legal or other professional advice might be removed ...." If our intention is to denote permission, the sentence should be rewritten to something like this: "Editors may remove questions that ask for medical, legal or other professional advice and replace such questions with a message (such as {{RD-deleted}}) pointing to these guidelines."   - Mark D Worthen PsyD (talk) 03:04, 24 April 2018 (UTC)
    • Very few users here oppose boxing up or deleting blatantly obvious medical advice questions. For example, "I think I have cancer. What should I do?" And obviously the answer is, "See your doctor." The core issue is just what constitutes a medical advice question. Some want a narrower interpretation, some want a broader interpretation. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 04:10, 24 April 2018 (UTC)

Attempt to police sensitivity at the RD vs the accepted principle that an edit can only be modified or deleted by its author[edit]

This discussion has been closed. Please do not modify it.
The following discussion has been closed. Please do not modify it.
The following discussion is closed. Please do not modify it. Subsequent comments should be made on the appropriate discussion page. No further edits should be made to this discussion.

Anna Frodesiak removed a contribution of mine for "insensitivity". I'd like to know if you think she was entitled to do that or not, and why? Here's what happened:

  • Anna Frodesiak starts a section about the accident on Southwest Airlines Flight 1380 and asks (among other things): "... would breaking another window, thereby decompressing the plane, have made it easier to pull her back in?" (11:22, 19 April 2018 diff)
  • I answer (somewhat aghast that anyone could even consider this dangerous course of action a possibility): "Nah, just open one of the plane's doors Face-smile.svg" (12:39, 19 April 2018 diff)
  • Anna Frodesiak deletes my comment (21:49, 19 April 2018 diff)
  • Since it seems to be an accepted principle at the RD that only the author of a contribution can modify or delete their contribution (with exceptions, see below) and that she has not sufficiently justified her action I revert her (23:15, 19 April 2018 diff)
  • Anna Frodesiak deletes my comment again, noting in her edit summary (among other things): "a big smiley face and a joke connected to a recent woman's death is offensive" (01:19, 20 April 2018 diff)

Before I get to my main questions let me note that:

  • The joke was of course not "connected" to that woman's death. It was not about the death. In fact it was not about the incident at all. It was irony directed at Anna Frodesiak's suggestion to break a window. I believe that much is obvious.
  • No one in 10 hours and 30 minutes between when I posted my comment and when Anna Frodesiak deleted it seemed to find the joke was offensive or in fact had absolutely anything to do with the actual Southwest Airlines incident at all. Between my reverting Anna Frodesiak and her second deletion Baseball Bugs even posted a reaction to it (a contribution he deleted later). From his reaction to it it didn't look to me like he thought that joke was anything offensive. In fact Anna Frodesiak herself posted between my post and her deletion of it a long contribution (21:24, 19 April 2018 diff). It seems to have taken Anna Frodesiak some time to realize that my joke was offensive. I am at least a little bit inclined to believe that what really offended Anna Frodesiak was sarcasm directed her way. Be that as it may, I think the main question here is one of principle.

I am hoping to get some useful answers to the following questions:

  • Was my contribution one of those that people usually consider can be deleted out of hand by anyone (banned users, etc.) against the accepted standard I've already mentioned several times?
  • What's the new standard for "sensitivity"? That any time a question at the RD has to do with a situation that involved deaths, etc. jokes and smileys are not allowed?
  • Is Anna Frodesiak now entitled to enforce this sort of standard without having sought discussion and consensus?

I'm not gonna revert her this time. That is I'll wait for your reactions before doing so (assuming it doesn't turn out a majority of your reactions disagree with my view of this). But I do believe strongly that in fact it was Anna Frodesiak who should have sought consensus before deleting my joke, as it was she who was going against an accepted standard here at the RD.

Looking forward to your comments. Thanks. Basemetal 19:31, 22 April 2018 (UTC)

I've seen my own comments deleted sometimes, and I've learned that it's best not to make too big a thing of it. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 21:41, 22 April 2018 (UTC)
We don’t alter, deface or erase another User’s edit except in extraordinary circumstances. Basemetal’s quip did not constitute extraordinary circumstances. I also acknowledge that Basemetal should have stated directly the reason breaking a second window is not a good idea, rather than implying it with sarcasm. Dolphin (t) 21:54, 22 April 2018 (UTC)
As with the medical advice issue, you're asserting that your opinion is the only truth. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 23:12, 22 April 2018 (UTC)

Okay, 3,318 keystrokes and probably ten minutes to prepare the diffs and type it. Now, dozens of users will spend time reading this and responding. This will add up to hours of wasted time that could be spend in the mainspace. Let's see if we can get this settled and move on.

So, what do you want from this? An apology? Sure, I'm terribly sorry for removing the post. Do you want post back? Okay, please go put it back. As an editor, I thought it best. If it were me, this would be simple water off a duck's back. It's obviously been stuck in your craw for 3 days. What do you want to have satisfaction and see this post closed? Anything you want, just say. Best wishes, Anna Frodesiak (talk) 23:26, 22 April 2018 (UTC)

Basemetal, you don't need to compose an essay for this page to seek a consensus to enforce talk page guidelines. Clearly, WP:TPO does not list "comments you feel are insensitive" as one of the things you can remove. Trout for Anna, restore your comment as she suggested, and close this thread as a complete waste of space. ―Mandruss  23:40, 22 April 2018 (UTC)
Good plan! Trout me back to the stone age, close this thing, and head back to the mainspace. Anna Frodesiak (talk) 23:45, 22 April 2018 (UTC)

The discussion above is closed. Please do not modify it. Subsequent comments should be made on the appropriate discussion page. No further edits should be made to this discussion.