Usually (and with good reason), mods are not expected to decide if an answer is incorrect. On some sites, though, the mod will take an action if a trusted user raises a flag.

This occurs on occasion on Biology.SE where a user dispenses bad medical advice in comments. The flag is deemed helpful and the comment is removed - presumably because medical advice is OT anyway (though questions still make their way in by not posing it as medical advice.)

Do we need the moderator of a health site - where answers actually deal with issues that impact the health of real people - to step out of the traditional role on occasion?

What can we do about faulty advice if most users don't know it's faulty?

(In one case, the user posted an erroneous answer based on a misunderstanding of the question, and a mod still declined it.)

Edited to add: Is it possible to have a special chat room to draw attention to erroneous answers? Would this be a solution?

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    About the chat room, we could definitely do it, and it probably would help. MSE has a chat room for low quality posts, so we could have something similar here, except run by humans instead of bots
    – michaelpri
    Apr 9, 2015 at 22:44
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    Problems will always be determining what is a correct/incorrect or safe/unsafe answer. I think a lot of it will have to depend on the answer and this is something that should be judged for each case. Even with knowledgeable moderators you will run into situations where material that might be harmful isn't removed and material that isn't is removed. Don't forget as the site grows in popularity and users that non-mod users will gain the power to vote for deletions also.
    – Joe W
    Apr 9, 2015 at 23:07
  • @JoeW - Good point that I hadn't considered. Apr 10, 2015 at 0:12

3 Answers 3


My primary concern with this is that I think the answer is potentially "Yes", but that now puts a tremendous burden on the moderators. Now not only are they moderators in the traditional sense of Stack Exchange moderators (because it's not like those problems are going to go away), but also the "gatekeepers of rightness", which puts both an intense amount of responsibility at their feet, and presupposes they can properly evaluate the correctness of answers that the community has failed to properly evaluate.

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    And that's the rub. Especially since even among accepted professionals there are differences of opinion on the same matter. Paper A says yes, Paper B says no, and Paper C says squirrel.
    – JohnP
    Apr 14, 2015 at 19:36
  • @JohnP - it's not that simple. If you have background knowledge, you have a better ability to understand the value of paper A and paper B. As to paper C, it's either irrelevant, or it's brilliant. My favorite example in the Paper C category is Dr. Barry Marshall (and of course Dr. Warren) who won the Nobel prize for Paper C. Apr 14, 2015 at 21:02
  • I'm afraid I agree with this answer. And see the same problems with it. And see no easy solutions. Apr 14, 2015 at 21:10
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    This actually threw up a red flag for me when I saw @michaelpri discuss in his nomination how he thinks the moderators need to protect against wrong answers, and that he feels he can do that after having spent 2 weeks on the site and googling health stuff. Someone with two weeks experience is not an expert qualified to decide if it's right or wrong. And while I think on a site like this, you would want mods who can delete obviously harmful stuff, the problem is that the mod candidates here are (mostly) not doctors and thus not actually qualified to do that.
    – Sterno
    Apr 15, 2015 at 14:44
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    And I don't mean to pick on @michaelpri in particular. It just happened to be his nomination that raised some of these questions for me. And apologies if I've misinterpreted any of his comments. I don't want to put words in his mouth.
    – Sterno
    Apr 15, 2015 at 14:45

I have been thinking about this quite a bit since this site launched. Those of us who were trained in the medical profession were inculcated with the idea that patient safety trumps everything. From this perspective, faulty advice lying around the site is simply not acceptable. Its potential to cause harm outweighs any considerations about how SE is meant to work, what successful moderation has looked like on other sites, or what anyone else is comfortable with. I share with you these instincts.

On the other hand, the Stack Exchange network has been built around a different moderation approach:

Flags should not be used to indicate technical inaccuracies, or an altogether wrong answer.

These guys know what they’re doing. If we start using flags to mediate arguments about right vs. wrong, the debates will be never-ending. And none of us came here looking for a host for our debates.

What is the solution? I think it is to marshal a user base of people who are able to critically evaluate the claims being made and annotate quality based on votes, just like every other SE site. This is going to involve some work. Currently, we just don’t have enough people with the background to make this work. We need to put some thought into how to attract those people. Otherwise, this site is going to be reams of words without any indication of what is high quality explanation and what is pure nonsense.

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    I think voting will be important in determining what is a good answer that gives helpful information. I also think that commenting when you think an answer is wrong would also help to weed out the good answers from the bad answers. I don't even think we would need to delete bad information (the OP might though) because it can be something to show possible viewers what is not correct.
    – michaelpri
    Apr 9, 2015 at 22:42
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    One person vetting content and making an authoritative, well-sourced argument is typically enough to balance out a piece of misinformatin that might have otherwise been ranked as a top answer. I've seen it happen: What I assumed to be a perfectly legitimate answer turned out to be complete bunk... and someone posting an indignant, persuasive rebuttal about why the information was actually wrong can keep everything on the right track. "Ah, yes. This does not deserve to be our top answer. <down-voted>." Apr 10, 2015 at 0:18
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    Thanks for this answer. Under "First do no harm", bad advice is worse than no advice. It's really hard for me to step back from that model and figure out what I can and should do as a single individual. Apr 10, 2015 at 0:19
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    @RobertCartaino - I've also seen the opposite (on Biology.SE): that an authoritative sounding, well-written answer which was completely wrong was accepted over the opposing, well-written correct one because it was medical as opposed to what the majority of users there are well-informed in (genetics, microbiology, etc.), and b) it agreed with what the OP wanted to hear. Answers shouldn't be rebuttals, imo. At least, I can't post such an answer. Apr 10, 2015 at 0:23
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    @RobertCartaino - This also puts pressure on the users who know it's wrong to post an answer. This can't be the only answer. The community needs more users with the needed knowledge. The site has to be more professional before we're likely to attract many such users. It's a chicken-and-egg situation. Apr 10, 2015 at 0:25
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    ...and that's what I was referring to in evaluating this site in that big, bold statement that says "The problem comes when we cannot tell the difference; or at least it's not coming across that we can tell the difference on this site. If the vetting of this content is haphazard or broadly careless and ignorant, then the community is not doing their job of *curating* this content, and this site might as well not be here in the first place. I don't think that is the case, though. Apr 10, 2015 at 0:32
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    @RobertCartaino - I am still here, still reading answers, and still seeing bad medical advice. Yet it isn't being vetted. Clearly it is the case. One answer recommended eating a product for pain relief that is used topically for pain. The answer isn't easy, and can't be discounted as occurring when it's not occurring. This is a health site, and "do no harm" should exist here as well. Apr 14, 2015 at 21:07

Another consideration is when known "good" advice becomes bad or disproved.

For example, the recent studies that are starting to show that low sodium diets aren't really all that efficacious for high blood pressure, and may in fact be harmful by going too low in the sodium intake. (In some instances, as pointedly remarked upon). This is intended as a general example, not specific medical advice, as this is a meta post about awareness, not a recommendation in response to a specific question.

Having a responsive, responsible member group as well as moderators that can curate old questions/answers will be a critical factor in site success. I think, however, that by recognizing and discussing these things early, we have a good start on making that a reality. That will also make it easier than going back and trying to untrench set in thought patterns.


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