Wikipedia talk:Reference desk

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To ask a question, use the relevant Reference Desk
The guidelines for the Reference desk are at Wikipedia:Reference desk/Guidelines.
For help using Wikipedia, please see Wikipedia:Help desk.
This page is for discussion of the Reference Desks only. Please don't post comments here that don't relate to the Reference Desks. Other material may be moved.


RfC regarding closure of ref desks is closed: No Action[edit]

WP:Village pump (policy)/RfC: Should the Reference Desks be closed has been closed with:

NO ACTION: No consensus currently exists for closing the Reference Desks. However, there is clearly a consensus that something must change in how they are run -- which is properly the subject of a new RfC.

Based on WP:Administrators' noticeboard/Requests for closure#Wikipedia:Village pump (policy)/RfC: Should the Reference Desks be closed(Archived) I expected a mutli-admin closure with a more extensive discussion summary, but I guess the solo closer thought that after more than a week the closing team had stalled out. -- ToE 12:34, 13 December 2017 (UTC)

  • That's a fine closure. There's nothing in that discussion which would have made that closure contentious. I know someone was trying to organize a multi-admin team to close it, but there wasn't any need for that. It was a simple up/down result and there was not a consensus to change the status quo. The second question (what changes should be made and how to make them) may well be a messier close, but on a binary question with a fairly clear consensus, there isn't a need for an admin team to be organized. The close is fine, and I would challenge any admin who disputes it to indicate why they think anyone else (including a team of closers) could have reached a different conclusion. It's fine. --Jayron32 15:28, 13 December 2017 (UTC)
Well, with a 2-to-1 ratio of support for the Refdesks, it would seem fairer to call it a Keep. I mean, next time it is nominated the opponents will be running around saying "it was no consensus last time and it's only gotten worse!" and we'll have to follow around saying "but it was 108 to 55" and then they'll bury us in text to derail the parent discussion or just start a new section and say the same bogus thing again. Such is politics in the Age of Iscariot. Wnt (talk) 16:22, 15 December 2017 (UTC)
There are only two results possible: A proposal is enacted, or it is not. This proposal to close the ref desks was not enacted. The rest of your hair splitting doesn't make a bit of difference here, or anywhere. --Jayron32 16:45, 15 December 2017 (UTC)
Claiming that a 2-to-1 "ratio of support" was automatically a "consensus" would not appropriate anyway. Consensus is not determined by vote-counting. (even if decisions do sometimes have to be made that way.)
There was a significant number of well thought out, intelligent arguments made on all sides, and no compromise was reached. That is almost the definition of "no consensus". The closer described the situation correctly. ApLundell (talk) 16:50, 19 December 2017 (UTC)
The Ref Desks are unclosable because nothing could stop, say, Wnt from hosting one on his talk page. It would not violate talk page guidelines for people to ask questions about some random topic to Wnt and for Wnt to answer those questions. Count Iblis (talk) 14:25, 17 December 2017 (UTC)
Even if your premise that anyone could simply fork the RefDesks to their talk page (without getting into any trouble, especially if there was previous consensus to close the RefDesks) was true (I seriously doubt it), the current iteration of the RefDesks is located in the Wikipedia: namespace (without any "this is an essay" or such disclaimer) and linked from multiple places, which makes it "official". Pushing the RefDesks to userspace would not close them, but it would send a clear message of "the community doesn't support this". TigraanClick here to contact me 17:12, 17 December 2017 (UTC)
There's a huge difference between posting a question on someone's talk page and the RefDesks. For one thing, wnt's talk page is not proudly linked from the Main Page. ApLundell (talk) 17:00, 19 December 2017 (UTC)
I see, so I guess we'll have to emigrate to Scotland. Count Iblis (talk) 17:43, 20 December 2017 (UTC)
In addition to Tigraan and APL's points, the premise is simply false anyway. The talk page guidelines are clear the purpose of user talk pages is to draw the attention or discuss the edits of a user. Wikipedia is not a social networking site, and all discussion should ultimately be directed solely toward the improvement of the encyclopedia. If the community has decided to close the RD, they've likely decided it does not serve towards improvement of the encyclopaedia. People are generally allowed some degree of latitude to stuff that isn't really related to improving wikipedia, the community have made it clear many times that there are limits. If someone simply answers the occasional RD type question that someone asks of them it's likely this will be tolerated but if someone starts using their talk page to host a reference desk after it's closed, it's likely they will be asked to stop, and blocked if it continues. There's also WP:Point etc to consider. Nil Einne (talk) 11:37, 22 December 2017 (UTC)
Riiiight. So Wikipedia is a place with no tolerance for asking/answering questions about anything anywhere? That's the sum of all human knowledge? This all is soulless, obstructionistic, bureaucratic, lobbying, and one day, when they have won, and Wikipedia is no more, I think the paymasters behind it will get so overweening proud of their shoestring budget of triumphant vandalism that they are careless where they brag ... thinking no one who cares will be listening. And all the knowledge and wit and thought and community we could have shared with all the world on a billion topics, we will have to concentrate and twist and pervert and put into an audience of one, single time, single place, to stand as a mighty wonder unto the ages. But such a wonder it might be! Wnt (talk) 23:04, 22 December 2017 (UTC)
Village pump acting as a Ref Desk. Count Iblis (talk) 15:08, 24 December 2017 (UTC)

Dr. Google Will See You Now[edit]

Dr. Google is doing the job we don't want to do. Count Iblis (talk) 21:16, 17 December 2017 (UTC)

<sarcasm> Oh, well, that's OK, then. The people have spoken. Let's all become armchair diagnosticians, since everybody's doing it. </sarcasm> -- Jack of Oz [pleasantries] 21:21, 17 December 2017 (UTC)
I wonder if you're also a supporter of the War on Drugs. I get the same sense there that, well, as long as we're trying to do something to oppose a Bad Thing, it doesn't matter if by doing so we only make it worse, or what kind of disruption it causes or how unfair it is. I mean, wishes really are horses, right, and so as long as you wish everyone had access to a doctor who doesn't say "I only get 15 minutes with you" in person and refer you to a /dev/null phone tree otherwise, that's all that matters. You just have to wish really hard, and prove the depth of your devotion with a lot of bureaucratic processes. Wnt (talk) 22:16, 17 December 2017 (UTC)
I should add that in my opinion medical questions are nowhere near the scariest things we have answers for here. For example, consider [1] where a respondent consults Electrician Google for the amperage of a circuit breaker. I mean, yeah, in theory if the posting, or Google, gives the wrong amperage, and the questioner replaces a low-amp breaker with a high-amp breaker, his house could burn down and half a dozen people could die. However, well, ultimately, we live in an unsafe world full of death and the people at the far end of the line have less responsibility I think than the guy who goes out and buys a new circuit breaker and plays home electrician. But there's nothing special about medicine either way you take this. Wnt (talk) 19:44, 18 December 2017 (UTC)
The coding on a circuit breaker would seem to be safely factual. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 22:58, 18 December 2017 (UTC)
Wnt, the point, as I've always seen it, isn't that we're trying to fight anything, it's more that we don't wish to be drawn into anything that doesn't really have anything to do with building an encyclopedia while, at the same time, having possible (and potentially grave) unintended negative consequences. In my opinion, again, the same should apply to other types of question-answer situations with similar potential consequences (physical, psychological, financial, even sentimental harm). Personally, I just stay away from these questions, and that's what I recommend everyone else do. ---Sluzzelin talk 23:04, 18 December 2017 (UTC)
"Sentimental harm"? ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 23:20, 18 December 2017 (UTC)
I dunno ... why would we want to give amateur advice on how to unintentionally make things worse with your ailing fire lilies or peonies, why should we give you bad advice on how to restore a painting by your (non-notable) grandmother or a cherished photograph (without negative) of your grandparents, after an accident with sticky liquids ... basically, as with medical no-nos etc., why would we want to make someone's life more miserable in general? Maybe sentimental wasn't the right word. ---Sluzzelin talk 23:30, 18 December 2017 (UTC)
Maybe "heirloom harm"? Any problem that a professional should be able to fix or at least provide sound advice. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 00:25, 19 December 2017 (UTC)
Exactly. A professional with expertise, training, the ability to view the situation and ask further questions face to face, accountability, a name, etc. ---Sluzzelin talk 00:27, 19 December 2017 (UTC)
Maybe more generally as "property damage". ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 11:32, 19 December 2017 (UTC)
  • The disclaimer is not an exclusive list. It says: Not professional advice: If you need specific advice (for example, medical, legal, financial or risk management), please seek a professional who is licensed or knowledgeable in that area. [Emphasis Medeis's]
The for example means our not giving advice is not limited to just these fields, but that they are examples of licensed, bonded, or indemnified professionals whose work we do not do. I find the comments of certain individuals above basically declaring our policy void tellingly confessional. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of your 'superiors'. μηδείς (talk) 16:05, 24 December 2017 (UTC)
There are licensed, bonded, or indemnified professionals for just about anything you can imagine, even for grooming your cat. Count Iblis (talk) 17:37, 24 December 2017 (UTC)
Be sure to only use the ones who can reach through your network cable and do the grooming. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 19:34, 24 December 2017 (UTC)
Count Iblis's disingenuous trolling (he fully understands my point that for example means not limited to) is not what matters, and he has his own disclaimer declaring his true colors. What matters is that the Wikimedia foundation doesn't want us opening it up to lawsuits. The use of a disclaimer is of value, but not if it is taken as license. It's like pretending that one can print scurrilous libels as long as one sprinkles them with "alleged"s. It doesn't work that way, and entities are still subject to suit if their actions belie their words. μηδείς (talk) 20:07, 24 December 2017 (UTC)
No one is going to sue Wikimedia for anything we do here, not even if a cat were to die as a result of bad grooming advice given here. Count Iblis (talk) 22:14, 24 December 2017 (UTC)
Has that theory ever been put to the test? ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 00:21, 25 December 2017 (UTC)
Craigslist was the subject of legal action because of the erotic services they offer, but that site still exists and they still allow prostitutes to advertise their services. Count Iblis (talk) 02:06, 25 December 2017 (UTC)
Interesting comparison. Has the Wikimedia Foundation ever been sued? ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 13:37, 25 December 2017 (UTC)
See: Litigation involving the Wikimedia Foundation. Count Iblis (talk) 15:22, 25 December 2017 (UTC)
No complaints there about bad medical advice. (Although that would require surviving it.) ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 19:41, 25 December 2017 (UTC)
Not that I'm saying we should, or shouldn't, give medical advice; but wouldn't, by the nature of what a disclaimer is, entail that the disclaimer you are citing isn't a prohibition about what we can say, but about the nature of how the reader interprets what is said? In other words, the disclaimer is not a rule, it is telling the reader, "Wikipedia doesn't consider anything here to be sound medical advice, or even medical advice of any nature", in short, if the reader takes something here as medical advice that is on them, not on Wikipedia. Indeed, I would say that the disclaimer doesn't have any relation to what people say on the reference desk (I'm sure there are other, real rules covering that), but it is more meant for situations where someone reads an article on a type of medication, takes less than what the article says should be a lethal dose, then dies; the disclaimer protects Wikipedia because it makes clear that articles are not intended to give medical advice, thus, an article cannot be responsible for your dosing with medication, since that would entail medical advice. Long story short, without getting into my opinion of your point, the disclaimer, almost surely, does not serve the function you are citing it for - if it does, then it is not functioning like a disclaimer usually does and it is very weird that that is not pointed out in it (because, again, such a disclaimer is about explicitly limiting the context of what is, and has been, actually said on Wikipedia, rather than a limitation on what may, or may not, be said). So, it's not, "This looks like medical advice, disclaimer says you can't say that, it has to go, shouldn't be here", but, to the reader, "If you interpret this as medical advice, you are not interpreting it correctly".


But, yes, you are right, that doesn't mean that because of the disclaimer anyone can say anything and Wikipedia is invulnerable to a lawsuit - nonetheless, while that is true, and while such a fact might be a good reason to have policies against medical advice, citing such a disclaimer doesn't really have any bearing on anything. It's a bit of a red herring - indeed, it actually weakens the point: if the basis for not giving such advice is that there is such a disclaimer, and that's it, it's pretty weak since that isn't what disclaimers do (they cover what has been said, you don't give a disclaimer that what you say isn't legal advice since you aren't a lawyer if you haven't said anything relating to the law, you tell your friend that to emphasize that you aren't taking responsibility for how they might construe what you've said); on the other hand, if there is a better case to be made, then why make it using a weak piece of support that has to be contorted from its actual purpose? Again, I'm not saying you're wrong, or right, only that you are making a weak case, which begs the question of why not make a strong one if you can?Phoenixia1177 (talk) 11:39, 27 December 2017 (UTC)
A quick addendum: part of what made Craigslist vulnerable is that they made a point of having policies that forbid posting certain types of ads and made an effort to provide some moderation - in short, they made themselves responsible for what their users posted, specifically relating to prostitution, etc. I'm not saying such a suit might not still have been viable otherwise, but, to be clear, the reference desk is statements made by users, not Wikimedia, as hosters, they might be less culpable by not pushing policing of medical advice, or policing it as little as possible (leaving that all up to users to do). In other words, if your point is primarily about lawsuits, citing official statements by Wikimedia as backing up removals and, acting in that capacity, might increase vulnerability as much as it might diminish it.


Of course, a better argument, as always, would be that we shouldn't be giving advice and diagnoses since we can't examine the person. Thus, for the same reason, "What circuit breaker should I use?" isn't really answerable, we can't examine the situation, whereas, "I'm replacing a breaker, I need one that is <X>, what breakers are <X> and why is that important?", we can answer that, it is a general question that will be applied to a specific case, but it is not about the specific case. In the same vein, "I have a cough and a fever, is it the flu?", there is no way to answer that without an examination, but, "Are a cough and a fever symptoms of the flu? What percentage of people with both symptoms have the flu as opposed to something else?", that is quite answerable, even if the person intends to conclude they have the flu from those facts (indeed, that is what the disclaimer is actually about, by the way, that our reply to that general question would not entail the specific implication that the asker does, indeed, have the flu, drawing that conclusion would be on them - in other words, you can reply to the general question without implying an answer to the specific because the disclaimer is already covering the intent and scope of the answer; not prohibiting the general answer for being discussed.)Phoenixia1177 (talk) 11:50, 27 December 2017 (UTC)
Can you summarize the above in 25 words or less? :) ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 02:13, 28 December 2017 (UTC)
What's the fun in that? But, short version: disclaimers don't operate that way, the issue isn't legal or harm, but the impossibility of answering specific to the person questions. The disclaimer protects Wikipedia by contextualizing, it isn't a limitation on speech, but the implied context of the content.24.3.61.185 (talk) 04:56, 29 December 2017 (UTC)
Are you Phoenixia? ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 01:24, 30 December 2017 (UTC)

Take three steps before visiting GP, public urged: "People should take three steps to try to solve a health problem before seeing their GP, a doctors' leader has urged. Patients should see if they can sort it themselves, see a pharmacist or use a reputable online source of information, the Royal College of GPs says." Count Iblis (talk) 18:45, 29 December 2017 (UTC)

Which Wikipedia ain't. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 21:43, 29 December 2017 (UTC)
Hmm, so the government-run BBC is telling the patrons of the government-run NHS that the Royally-warranted College of GP's is telling HM's subjects to rely on Fleet Street before getting on the waiting list for a probing at public expense? μηδείς (talk) 00:07, 30 December 2017 (UTC)
The BBC is not government-run. Though partly funded by taxes, its terms of incorporation are specifically designed to maintain its independence from government direction. {The poster formerly known as 87.81.230.195} 90.199.208.241 (talk) 12:19, 30 December 2017 (UTC)
Though, as broadcaster/governor/frogman/alarmist/millionaire Jesse Ventura notes, "It's only cheating if you get caught." And if the government is caught, is it really cheating? Hidden stuff aside (if it exists), ruling figures still clearly influence the political coverage by simply often appearing on television and choosing what the audience hears at those times. It's so mundane today, many people forget that even counts as a tremendous power, but it does. Technically. InedibleHulk (talk) 13:39, January 8, 2018 (UTC)
That's not equivalent to "government-run", though, and is also available to non-governmental figures if they're good enough at eliciting coverage by the media – hence the successful Presidential campaign by one D. Trump, who received arguably rather more coverage than he merited by being so fascinatingly outrageous. I fear however that we might be deviating from the topic. {The poster formerly known as 87.81.230.195} 90.200.41.3 (talk) 13:46, 8 January 2018 (UTC)
As the Earl of Halifax said, true merit is like a river. We have nothing to fear but fear itself. Make the topic great again! InedibleHulk (talk) 14:14, January 8, 2018 (UTC)

archiving note[edit]

So as some of you noticed, the archiver goobered up the Science desk pretty badly. It turns out it's not something I'm likely to be able to fix in the code, so I'll let y'all know what to look out for.

  1. When you hat a thread, as Matt Deres did in this edit, it turns out it's much better not to hat the section header. The archiver archives threads based on the assumption that they start with the header, so in this case, it left the hat top tag unarchived. But it did archive the hat bottom tag, meaning that the hat top tag remained alone on the page, effectively hatting the entire page.
  2. If the archiver screws up and you have to fix things in a hurry, as Medeis did in this edit, please let me know! Yes, it needed fixing, but I didn't notice anything was wrong until the archiver re-archived the unarchived content for a second time, a day later. (And while I was trying to fix it, Keenan Pepper was scrambling to try to fix it, too.)

Thanks, your humble archiving botherd, Steve Summit (talk) 03:22, 12 January 2018 (UTC)

If the section title is offensive in some way, what would be the best solution? Change the title and anchor the original? ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 16:20, 12 January 2018 (UTC)
Me, I'd point at WP:NOTCENSORED, and move on with my life. But, as long as it's an infrequent occurrence, it's perfectly appropriate to archive an outside-the-header tag manually, as Keenan Pepper and I did in more or less of a tag team here. —Steve Summit (talk) 18:05, 12 January 2018 (UTC)
I don't think it comes up very often. Something really offensive is likely to have been reverted before the archiver can even get to it. It's not totally clear why the user included the header inside the hat-hab wrapper in this case, even though the header was a bit snippy. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 18:14, 12 January 2018 (UTC)
Well, I didn't really think about it, to be honest. I didn't realize hatting the header would mess up archiving in that way, so in the future, I'll make sure to hat below it. NBD - and thanks, as always, to Steve for keeping the machinery running in the background. Matt Deres (talk) 19:15, 13 January 2018 (UTC)

Three integers optic equation producing an integer - question for RD/Math[edit]

In what condition does the sum of multiplicative inverses of three integers gives also an integer as an extension of optic equation with 2 integer variables? (I post here the question originally intended for RD/math whcih I see that is protected.)--5.2.200.163 (talk) 16:12, 16 January 2018 (UTC)

Can do. (Though semi-protection is set to expire in a few hours.) For clarity, you said, "sum of multiplicative inverses of three integers gives also an integer", but did you want to say, "... gives also the inverse of an integer"? (Or "reciprocal", term used in our article.) -- ToE 16:30, 16 January 2018 (UTC)
My mistake, indeed I wanted to say the missing words! I was in a hurry!--5.2.200.163 (talk) 16:33, 16 January 2018 (UTC)
 Done -- ToE 16:39, 16 January 2018 (UTC)
Thanks!--5.2.200.163 (talk) 16:46, 16 January 2018 (UTC)
And the desk is unlocked. We'll see how long it lasts. -- ToE 16:42, 16 January 2018 (UTC)
I am rather surprised by the delay of unlocking, delay from the specified time of 16:26--5.2.200.163 (talk) 16:46, 16 January 2018 (UTC)
According to the history it was unlocked 12 minutes before I added your question, but I hadn't noticed. I wouldn't have thought it necessary, but if you were still seeing it locked after Jayron's protection level edit, then perhaps it would have responded to a WP:PURGE. -- ToE 17:04, 16 January 2018 (UTC)
It's a feature of the system that the "protected" template hangs around until someone edits the desk following the expiry of the protection. During protections I frequently see two identical protection templates, one above the other. Is there a technical reason for this? 195.147.104.148 (talk) 20:19, 16 January 2018 (UTC)
If you see two of them, it means that someone added one, which is redundant, because there's an "IF" statement at the top of a given desk which is supposed to handle it automatically. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 00:02, 17 January 2018 (UTC)