What questions am I talking about?

There is a type of question which has been cropping up on Stack Exchange sites since long before Health was created. And I have never seen a good answer to one of them, despite that they are quite popular. I am talking about questions which can be reduced to the form

Why didn't [group of people] do [some stuff]?

frequently also shortened such that the people are not named and only asking why the world isn't different from what it is, as in "Why isn't [some stuff] popular?".

I think that this type of question should be closed. The problem with it is, that 1) the answer is not from the area of the site's topic, and 2) the answer is usually not accessible to anybody, so people just delve into speculations, thus creating misinformation.


Health has had two such questions that I know of, so I'll list them here as examples.

  1. https://health.stackexchange.com/questions/1858/why-did-the-fda-approve-biafine-only-in-2006

The OP asks, why didn't the medicine come earlier on the US market, since it is known that it had been discovered earlier? The most likely scenario is that the company who had the patent for the medicine did not apply for approval earlier. So we are talking about an economic decision taken by a for-profit company, which was certainly compounded by internal politics. Usually, nobody has access to sources about the decision making which went to a company's business strategy choice. But even if we did, the explanation is medically irrelevant. Even if it wasn't the company not filing a request, but the FDA taking 25 years to process it (which I find unlikely), the explanation is still not medical.

  1. Why are antibiotics and ear tubes the primary treatment for chronic ear infections rather than improving normal drainage through the Eustachian tube?

The title doesn't look exactly like what I had in mind, but the OP clarified in comments:

I didn’t ask why these possibilities are bad. I asked why we stick with something with known risks rather than looking for something better, when other options are obviously still unexplored.

which boils down to "Why aren't researchers doing research in this direction?". So what could an answer look like? If you don't know how research is done, the basic process is: a researcher has an idea which he finds interesting, he finds a source of funding, and starts working away on it. If fewer of them choose to do research on otitis media therapies than on something else, then this is a matter of the sum of personal interests, academic fashions, career-building choices, and internal politics in academic institutions and funding organisations of thousands of indivuduals and organisations. Again, it is next to impossible to create an answer which answers the "why" part. And when some statements can be made towards clarifying it, they won't be medical in nature.

For an example of this type of question cropping up on other sites on the network, see how people continued asking on biology why evolution doesn't implement their favorite feature in organisms, until the community had to install a policy. They happen on UX too, see for example this question Note that it was popular at first, listed many reasons which have nothing to do with usability, and then was closed.

The baby and the bathwater

As with any closure discussion, it is important to find out if the newly recognized category of closed questions also covers legitimate questions. Indeed, I have frequently noticed that questions of the sort "why isn't X generally done" are sometimes answered with "people usually do Y instead, which is better for following reasons: " and these answers are informative. Before the misunderstanding was cleared up, anongoodnurse wrote this type of answer to the Eustachian tube question above, which I found good. So, I admit that a "thumb rule" based on the formulation of "why not do X" can lead to closing good questions.

But the problem is easily solved by simply rewording these questions and leaving them open. This also makes a good litmus test for the kind of question I have in mind. Imagine the contrived question "Why isn't it common to do routine chelations to cleanse the body from environmental pollution?". This can be easily rewritten to "What would be the medical benefits and risks of routine chelations". If such a rewriting is not possible, as in the Biafine question, it's likely that the question is not medical in nature after all.

Suggestions summary

  1. "Why did people choose not to do stuff" questions should be closed. We don't need a custom close reason for that, as these questions are "too broad", "opinion based" and "off topic" at the same time. Instead, the community should be aware of the problem and cast a close vote using one of these reasons.
  2. Save the "medical benefits of X" questions by rewording If you think the question can be answered with "X is medically better than Y, therefore Y is not done", reword it and leave open. This both makes the question more precise and helps us weed out the truly unanswerable questions.
  • note that why do "personal interests, academic fashions, career-building choices" prefer X rather than Y, if not because of saving people? (I don't want to mess with politic).
    – Ooker
    Sep 12, 2015 at 13:33
  • also, I believe that this question should be closed as off-topic, as it boils down to the "why don't people close X questions?" :)
    – Ooker
    Sep 12, 2015 at 13:37
  • @Ooker It's not off-topic. This is a valid meta discussion about a type of question that gets asked on this site. It is more asking "Is X on-topic?"
    – michaelpri
    Sep 12, 2015 at 20:27
  • @michaelpri I just try to making some fun paradox here. It is on-topic, of course.
    – Ooker
    Sep 12, 2015 at 20:30

1 Answer 1


the answer is not from the area of the site's topic

Isn't what the meta discussion is supposed to address? No decision has been taken yet… "X should be off-topic because it is off-topic.".

2 the answer is usually not accessible to anybody, so people just delve into speculations, thus creating misinformation.

In the United States, FDA decisions are often (always?) publicly available. E.g. here is the FDA clearance for some cream similar to Biafine. It also seems to contain the date of application. I'd imagine it's the case in some other countries as well. This makes such questions sometimes answerable, without having to speculate.

  • the point of the OP about the FDA is not whether it is hidden or public, but it is "still not medical" anyway. In general, I think this should be a comment more than an answer, and that explains the downvotes
    – Ooker
    Sep 12, 2015 at 13:30
  • @Ooker Thanks. My understanding is that the op thinks such questions can't be answered. Also, imho fda decisions can be medically grounded. Sep 12, 2015 at 15:07

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