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Medical Sciences SE requires every question posted in it to demonstrate prior research, mainly to avoid extremely trivial questions that can be answered through the simplest Google search. While this approach is absolutely reasonable and acceptable, I feel that in certain cases it should be waived, mainly when:

  1. The OP explicitly declares that he/she does not have any background in medical sciences
  2. When it is felt that the nature of the question makes it too deep/professional/technical to expect laymen/students/junior professionals to be able to find the answer on their own.

(This question arose from this question, which in my opinion meets both conditions suggested above)

These two situations make - in my opinion - the demand for prior research unnecessary and plainly a waste of time for the OP, as it is highly probable that such research will not advance him/her significantly towards the answer, and may even frustrate them, as the reason for them coming to the this website to begin with is that they simply do not know the answer nor how to find it.

Thus, I would like to hear what the community and mods think about such questions, and perhaps they would not get closed due to lack of prior research.

4 Answers 4

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I don't think we need to revise the policy.

As a bit of background, I had similar questions about the requirement when I first started participating here. But Carey was right then, and is still right for today.

1. Complicated exceptions make it hard for people to know what's expected

Asking people to show an extremely basic attempt at research is straight forward. Anyone can describe the two words they typed into their favorite search engine. If we start having to judge what is "too technical", that will just lead to more disagreements, more rules lawyering, and more posting on Meta. I also don't think having a secret phrase that people have to include to keep their question from being closed is the right plan.

2. The research effort ask is very low

We aren't asking people to perform an exhaustive literature review on PubMed. We're asking them to spend a few seconds to look into the question for themselves using whatever resource they can think of. For example, the question author could have indicated they typed the following into a search engine:

Why does phenylephrine have hydrogen bromide?
Side note: the third hit on Google from the US seems to answer the question

I don't think that is too much to ask. Based on some of the grumpy responses we receive, I agree with you that it may be frustrating for some users. However, I suspect it is also frustrating for users to have to read dozens of trivial or incomprehensible questions.

3. The benefit of the research requirement outweighs the risks

People often underestimate how helpful the research attempt can be at understanding the question author's position. The extra information conveyed by the research attempt is at times the magic that allows an answer author to answer the question. If a question can trivially be answered in the first page of search engine results, it's often extremely difficult to know what the question author is misunderstanding (sometimes due to the Curse of Knowledge). Otherwise, questions without research often need details or clarity or are too broad. You'll just be trading out one close reason for another.

4. We community moderators have a light touch with this close reason

In general, we unilaterally close questions requesting personal medical advice because of ethical considerations or off-topic questions that may cause other harm. We will sometimes close questions that can be trivially answered in the first page of search engine results after giving the question author ample time to edit their question.

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  • Thanks for the answer. As this is my first time on Meta, what's the etiquette? Is it okay to respond here? Or somewhere else?
    – Don_S
    Oct 3, 2022 at 18:41
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    Feel free to post an answer with a different viewpoint. People can vote up and down as they see fit.
    – Ian Campbell Mod
    Oct 3, 2022 at 18:49
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I have to agree with @IanCampbell

Pros on the requirement

As I pointed out elsewhere on the main site, cited research helps in many ways. It helps to know what you do know so we don't repeat those things, and cited research also helps others to learn while waiting for an answer, so that is also a double whammy of usefulness of the question.

A third benefit to asking for prior research is that we can also help to point you in the right direction if your research is going the wrong way.

Cons on exemptions

As with other community lead requirements, I fear that if we start introducing exemptions, they can be misused as workarounds to overcome the requirements. We don't want to go down that slippery slope, or we may find it difficult to roll back on the idea.

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All of the points @Ian Campbell made are valid and I agree with them. However, I still feel that in some cases - surely not the majority - putting such stress on the demand for prior research as a (sometimes) automatic action (i.e., even when a person knows and wholeheartedly claims that they have no capacity to understand whatever this basic research may reveal), hollows this requirement out and understandably, those OPs that come to this site for help (and I am NOT talking about off-topic questions as defined in the tour) become frustrated with this demand.

The point I am trying to make is that, in my opinion, finding an answer (or the start of an answer) in the first Google results page does not automatically render a question 'trivial'. Even if they actually try on their own, we have no idea if the OP is capable of understanding what they find (although, if they say outright that they lack any background/knowledge of medical sciences, we can assume for the most part that they are not).

Thus, for such cases in which OPs insinuate (or openly declare) that they 'have no idea where to begin', I think that it should be part of the mods' job to assess the type of question, the depth required to answer it and whether a demand for prior research should be made. I honestly believe that in certain cases, you would find that it is unnecessary to make such a demand, as it would just push those OPs away, and that is not what we want.

Bottom line: The demand for prior research should not be automatic, but rather on a case-by-case basis.

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    Thanks for posting. I have to disagree with you, sorry to DV. When I see no research at all, I presume none was done, and often give a clue/hint to the OP about how/what to search, e.g. ..."What's the difference between dextromethorphan and dextromethorphan HBr?" Doing a tad of research can distinguish answers the OP will understand from what they won't. If they follow up with, "What's a salt?", the answer will be longer but more understandable to the OP. Oct 6, 2022 at 2:53
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I agree with the previous posts - The requirement should stand.

However, I can think of one exception that might reduce this requirement a bit, and that is medical misinformation. We get a fair number of questions on here that are about vaccines and their effects, specifically the COVID-19 vaccines, but also others.

These are often asked by people with no background in medical sciences and are often touting ideas that are either completely wrong or unsupported in many instances, that they have "read/seen/heard on the internet". I suppose that this "on the internet" counts as research if they link their sources, so that requirement is met. However, I for one, don't want to support misinformation sites through click-tracking/traffic monitoring that goes on routinely by search engines and allows ranking of search results based on traffic.

I think every effort should be made to dispel any misinformation using actual science, whether the question contains research or not.

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    I'm not the downvoter, but I disagree with this answer personally. I am all for fighting disinformation, but I think the appropriate way to keep it off the site is to close the question and downvote it so that it is swiftly removed from the site by the "Romba" deletion script.
    – Ian Campbell Mod
    Feb 15, 2023 at 21:59
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    I think I'd rather redirect people towards Skeptics.SE if they have the equivalent of their "notable claim" and ask to check it. If they want to learn about medical science, they can reference something marginally more reputable. I'm more open to dissecting claims when they can be linked to an actual published paper, but I have no interest in this becoming a "debunk my youtube video" site.
    – Bryan Krause Mod
    Feb 20, 2023 at 15:20
  • @IanCampbell good point. I thought closed ones didn't disappear and was worried that we might end up on the receiving end of "ha, look these didn't get refuted, only closed, there must be a global conspiracy and some truth in them" sort of misrepresentation.
    – bob1
    Feb 21, 2023 at 3:34
  • @BryanKrause good point too; bright line test of an actual reputable reference is a good way to go.
    – bob1
    Feb 21, 2023 at 3:36

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