In this question I agreed to lighten up on moderation of COVID-19 questions, and I have. The problem now is the deluge of poor quality questions. I'm spending hours per day on this site that I can't really afford. I get some occasional help from the other mods but mostly I'm on my own (that's not a criticism, just an observation). I'm getting criticism from all sides for not allowing anything and everything no matter how shoddy, and then criticism from other sides for allowing it.

Where do you suggest we draw the line? The answer I'm getting from some quarters is "anything, no matter how shoddy, if it relates to COVID-19." And then I get the opposite criticism from others. Simultaneously, I'm having to debate link-only answers, copyright infringement, etc.

But here's the real question: Once this pandemic is over, or at least tamed down, how do we return this site to normal? I think we're setting a precedent here where medical advice and opinion questions are readily accepted and I can foresee having all these questions thrown in my face when I try to close such questions in the future.

So where's the line?

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    For what it's worth, I think you're doing a fantastic job in the situation. Thank you. – Bryan Krause Apr 4 '20 at 2:03
  • Regarding the link-only answers, I think we should not accept them for some reasons: Sometimes it's a huge text that contains lots of medical terms, which non medical people simply don't get it. When one gives at least a brief explanation of the link, in most cases everything changes. An example of this is Graham Chiu's answers. He provides references and also explains us what does that imply. Another reason to not accept link-only answers is that sometimes, after some time, the link 'dies' and we lost the information – I likeThatMeow Apr 5 '20 at 16:44
  • "I can foresee having all these questions thrown in my face when I try to close such questions in the future." what do you mean? – I likeThatMeow Apr 5 '20 at 16:46
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    @America I strongly disagree with your arguments against link-only answers: 1) we can use wayback machine to handle dead links, and scientific studies typically don't disappear 2) It is a medical site, and as a result using medical terms shouldn't lead to an answer being removed. – Franck Dernoncourt Apr 5 '20 at 17:31
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    @FranckDernoncourt That issue was decided by the community long ago. If you want to debate it again, go to the thread or start a new thread. This thread is about a different thing entirely. – Carey Gregory Apr 5 '20 at 17:42
  • @CareyGregory ok then delete all comments about it. – Franck Dernoncourt Apr 5 '20 at 17:44
  • @America (I read your comment on being about link+quote, not link-only) – Franck Dernoncourt Apr 5 '20 at 17:44
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    @FranckDernoncourt You're the only one commenting on it. You can delete them yourself. – Carey Gregory Apr 5 '20 at 17:46
  • @CareyGregory America started talking about it. – Franck Dernoncourt Apr 5 '20 at 17:46
  • @FranckDernoncourt I started talking about it because mod Carey mentioned this issue too. "Simultaneously, I'm having to debate link-only answers, copyright infringement, etc." (emphasis mine) – I likeThatMeow Apr 5 '20 at 19:16
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    @Franck Can you not sense the frustration in Carey's post? It's exhausting for a moderator to have to debate with particular users over and over again, and Carey's doing a lot of the work here on his own. The community placed trust on him by electing him and the other mods to this position: it's fine to make your case, but afterwards it's probably best to leave it alone. – Bryan Krause Apr 5 '20 at 19:24
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    @America re: "I can foresee having all these questions thrown in my face when I try to close such questions in the future." - often people like to "rules lawyer": the community will agree a certain type of question or answer is not allowed, and this is the rule enforced from that time on. However, it's not typical to go back and apply that standard to older posts. Carey is worried that when we go back to stricter standards for things, people will point to old covid-19 questions and say "this was allowed so you were wrong to moderate my post!" It's really frustrating for a moderator. – Bryan Krause Apr 5 '20 at 19:26
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    @FranckDernoncourt Yep, so maybe take it up on the main Meta where these things were originally litigated and stop bugging Carey about it. – Bryan Krause Apr 5 '20 at 19:28
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    @FranckDernoncourt I've linked you to meta.stackexchange.com/questions/160077/… at least twice now, this is the third. The link you just pasted also includes the line "Do not copy the complete text of external sources; instead, use their words and ideas to support your own" The instructions are that answers have to include your own written contributions. Otherwise SE is no different from the crap websites around the net that display SE content as if it's their own. – Bryan Krause Apr 5 '20 at 19:37
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    @America Carey has to worry about it, because it's often his responsibility to convey those site rules to the individuals, and moderators hate to just lay down the law and walk away: they want users to try to understand. Unfortunately it can be difficult to tell the people who don't understand from the people who don't want to understand. Ambiguity in the rules makes it even harder. – Bryan Krause Apr 5 '20 at 19:39

The previous meta post primarily focused on answers even though "questions" was in the title, and only one of the answers there has a pattern of voting that seems like community agreement: https://medicalsciences.meta.stackexchange.com/a/1140/8728

People need information now, not next year, so for us to strictly enforce the policy on such answers would be pedantic and unhelpful, in my opinion.

It seems reasonable in the near term to continue to be a bit flexible on answers: to allow answers based on prior experiences, biological knowledge of other coronaviruses (in particular SARS and MERS), and other respiratory pandemics (in particular influenza). These sources can provide reasonable "best-guesses" while we deal with an ever-shifting situation.

I think we can also be slightly more flexible on medical advice questions if they can be interpreted and answered in terms of public health advice. There are medical guidelines for the general public released by authoritative figures and designed for consumption by the general public. I think it's reasonable to direct people to those guidelines even while we refuse (as we always have and should have) to answer individual questions directly. That is, we should not and cannot say "you should do X" or "you have/do not have covid-19 symptoms", but we can continue to say "the WHO says ________", "the CDC guidelines are _______", etc - this is the same sort of advice provided by reputable news sources, and doesn't involve anything like a doctor-patient relationship.

Perhaps the best thing to do would be to catch these under a single community wiki canonical answer.

I don't have much patience for the "is this a cure"-type speculation questions without prior research. I do think it's reasonable for questions to be asked about the progress of clinical research into therapies as long as the asker has put some effort into it as well (at a minimum, citing some popular press literature about a treatment, for example; not just "hey I wonder if lazzer beems would solve Corona").

I'd also be in favor of closing most of the "prognostication"-type questions (when will this end, how many will die, can this be stopped, etc) as primarily opinion-based. Questions about how these estimates are derived may be useful, if they contain some prior research and/or citations to scientific estimates and models.

  • I was reading your answer while saying 'right, yes, I agree' until the last paragraph.. I think they shouldn't be closed (not now) unless it's an isolated question with 0 previous google research. – I likeThatMeow Apr 5 '20 at 19:30
  • @America The thing is, they cannot be answered: there are all sorts of prognostications with different guesses with different assumptions. That's why it's opinion based. It might be possible to ask a good question (with a bit of background research) about where some of those estimates are coming from, though. – Bryan Krause Apr 5 '20 at 19:33
  • It not just opinion based, it is scientific opinion based, which I find it useful, at this moment – I likeThatMeow Apr 5 '20 at 19:35
  • I'd be curious to hear from the 3+ people who down-voted this answer to hear their objections (perhaps as another answer.) – Fizz Apr 7 '20 at 23:04
  • @Fizz I suspect it's from folks who want to have questions answered that I suggest should remain off-topic, and maybe from people upset about my votes and flags on their questions and answers. The regulars in this community are sadly outnumbered by the influx and may have spilled over even into meta. – Bryan Krause Apr 7 '20 at 23:10

Since this would probably get lost in the numerous comments under the question, I'll note as an answer that Bio SE now has a Covid-19 FAQ, which starts with:

Stack Exchange Biology receives many questions about the outbreak of a novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV/SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing COVID-19) that has spread worldwide. This is understandable. However, in many cases these posts are either closed as off-topic for various reasons (e.g. asking for health advice, speculation on number of deaths, suggestions of means to combat the virus), or may not receive a satisfactory answer. In either case, posters may not obtain the information they are seeking.

There are two answers, nearly equally upvoted. The first says:

Personal medical questions (including "what should I do") are as always off topic on every SE site.

On topic questions include:

  • general questions about biological concepts
  • questions about the biological mechanisms behind medical conditions
  • questions about techniques in a biological or biochemical laboratory

Any question that fits the above bullet points is on topic, whether or not it is about coronavirus. A number of our users with various backgrounds have sufficient expertise in virology to answer coronavirus questions that are about concepts, mechanisms, or techniques.

News reports of an epidemic have provoked many medical questions that we are not able to answer:

We are able to answer some questions, provided they meet the standards for this site. Speculative questions are not a good fit for the SE model.

Users with speculative questions in mind should use outside resources (like reputable news reports) to motivate their questions, and then form questions based on the underlying biology: ask about mechanisms and approaches, rather than outcomes or "expert opinions".

I think that can be adapted with a few (obvious) changes for Med SE.

The latter/2nd answer is a more extensive list of resources, which probably makes less sense to adapt, but the last section of that has mostly medical resources, albeit they are few and obvious (WHO, NIH etc.)


Should this site be a free-for-all for COVID-19 questions?

Yes for most cases. (I'd say 90% yes 10% no)

Yes because some people really don't know what to do, where to ask for help, they don't wanna go to the hospital because currently it's risky, etc. Some others, as a non medical people, don't know how to search properly and hence don't find the answers, whence end up asking here.

No for exceptional cases, for example yesterday there was a question about "how to be more productive in this time of quarantine due COVID-19, I'm addicted to blah blah.."

And if so, how does it recover?

When things become stabilized or normal or at least not that bad, as it's currently, simply Close them as they would normally be.

For example:

-no previous research, close

-seeking personal advice, close


  • "no previous research" shouldn't necessarily result in closing a question. – Franck Dernoncourt Apr 5 '20 at 17:39
  • @FranckDernoncourt it's rules sites, not me. – I likeThatMeow Apr 5 '20 at 19:02
  • It's not terribly clear what this answer is proposing. "90% yes 10% no" is not setting up any clear criteria, unless you want to use a random number generator to decide closing questions. – Fizz Apr 7 '20 at 23:06
  • @Fizz I meant in a general course of actions. If you were going to tolerate half of the off-topic questions, then set it up to 90%. The core point was to increase one's tolerance to this off-topic questions about Covid-19 – I likeThatMeow Apr 8 '20 at 20:40

I think COVID-19 questions should be treated the same way as non-COVID-19 questions, because COVID-19 is just one disease amongst many others. There exist other deadly diseases too, such as cancers, aging, diabetes, or Alzheimer's disease, so it is unclear to me why singling out COVID-19.

However, I think that the moderation on questions posted here tend to close questions too harshly. E.g., "no previous research" shouldn't necessarily result in closing a question.

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