If this question doesn't get closed fairly promptly without mods having to step in, I don't think this group is sustainable any longer. There just aren't enough high rep followers to police it, and consequently it's very quickly being overrun with endless "diagnose me" questions.


3 Answers 3


This is something of an issue, not just on this question and not just on Health Stack Exchange. A lack of enough high-reputation users to close and reopen questions in any sane amount of time on a regular basis is a problem that most small beta sites face, and it's not an easy problem to solve.

As I see it, there are two options. The first is to get more community members, so there are more people around to close these blatantly off-topic questions. Currently, about 50 people on Health have close/reopen privileges, including the three moderators. Not all 50 are regularly active - before today, I hadn't done anything since October, and not much else since July - and from what I can tell, only a fraction see all or even most of the questions that get asked each day.

Improving this, though, is far from easy. Community Promotion Ads can help traffic and add new members - I don't know the exact statistics - but there's no guarantee these users will stick around long enough to gain enough moderation privileges. Conversely, you could turn internally and try to get current members more interested in the site itself and in moderation - getting them to ask new questions can help show others the scope, but it can be difficult. That said, you can't force people to care, or want to use the site.

The second option is for moderators to be a bit more aggressive when it comes to closing. I moderate three sites, two of which have roughly the same community size as Health, and a bit less activity - although we get far fewer off-topic questions there. I still see problems in getting five community users to close some questions, though.

What I've tried to do in some of those cases is get involved sooner - that is, mod-hammer clearly off-topic questions when there are only two or three other close votes. There's no sense in waiting for days and days and days. I can see waiting a day or two - in this case, I don't think michaelpri did anything particularly wrong - but quicker moderator action can stop some of these questions earlier. I, for one, am absolutely fine with moderators on this site acting unilaterally in such cases if it's needed to stop these questions. Others may agree or disagree; at any rate, I think that's the best possible solution in the short-term.

I don't want to tell anybody here - moderators, normal users, or anyone else - what to do, especially as it's been a while since I was here. But from my time in Stack Exchange facing this issue, I can tell you that there are really just two classes of solutions. The community here can choose which of the two paths it wants (or some synthesis, or neither), and I fully support a new meta discussion explicitly addressing that.

In the meantime, though, keep in mind that Health Stack Exchange is still helping people. I vote to make like Winston Churchill and Keep Buggering On.


After a week of comments by Carey Gregory, Frank Dernoncourt, and Fomite, I think my mind has been changed a bit, and there's something else that needs saying. It's on the subject of answer moderation, and so strictly not as relevant here, but it's been brought up in comments, and I feel I should address it.

If people are leaving a site, that's a problem. That statement is undeniable and irrefutable. If people who really know their stuff are leaving, that's an even bigger problem. So perhaps more active moderation is batting down some of the poor answers that pop up from time to time, but it's also discouraging some of the really good ones.

Moderation like this is a battle of signal versus noise, where the signal is the high-quality contributions and the noise is the crap. The community has to decide how many poor answers it's willing to let slide in from time to time if that's going to keep good contributors here. I think - and here's the perspective as a moderator of other sites, who's gone through part of this same discussion - that we the community and we the moderators often choose to purge most of the noise early on in a site's life, and that can be achieved by being really tough on answers that don't meet a certain criteria - in this case, ones without sources. You get a high signal-to-noise ratio by lowering the signal (unintentionally) and the noise (intentionally) by equal amounts.

I don't think that's always a good idea.

Once you choose a path like that, you have to stick to it. I wasn't here early in the life of Health Stack Exchange, so I don't know what happened; I'm speculating. But it looks like folks decided to go with the hard-handed approach. And it makes sense, to a good degree. There's too much absolutely terrible advice out there on the Internet, which I think some of the medical professionals here may recognize. So you quell the bad stuff and try to raise the good stuff.

Here's the argument against that - and not just because it seems like it could help retain community members: let the voting sort the wheat from the chaff. The more people who know the right stuff, the more people who can downvote the terrible ideas - and then write the correct answers. In other words, it's okay to let some could-be-better answers in if we trust each other as a community to correct them. Let the voting have the best answers rise to the top, and let the poor stuff be buried in a pile of downvotes.

I'm normally one in favor of heavy-handed moderation because I've seen a lot of absolutely terrible posts on beta sites. A lot. But I think I've been convinced that that's not really working on Health Stack Exchange. Scratch that, it isn't working. I don't know all the ways in which things can be lightened - I trust the users who feel the moderation's too heavy to specify all of that. But if it's going to bring back a more knowledgeable userbase, then here, I'm all for it.

  • 2
    I think one of the problems is historical. One of the earliest, most active moderators was extremely aggressive about making Health a rigorous, academic site modeled after Skeptics. Comments were routinely judged to be answers and deleted without warning if they so much as hinted at an answer. I once posted a comment asking an OP to clarify something and even that comment was deleted. Answers without adequate supporting citations were also deleted very quickly. The result was numerous early members left in frustration at the overbearing moderation.
    – Carey Gregory Mod
    Dec 30, 2016 at 1:43
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    Unfortunately, these were also some of the most knowledgeable, active contributors. You can find some of their frustrations documented here in earlier meta threads. So the end result today is a few diehards remained but many others left, and the site now mainly attracts internet users with no StackExchange history coming here looking for medical advice, quite often with bizarre issues that barely qualify as health questions.
    – Carey Gregory Mod
    Dec 30, 2016 at 1:44
  • @CareyGregory If you require rigor, you've got a double-edged sword. I can't comment on those particular actions, but there's a balance to be struck. I can understand both sides - getting strict early on can cull some of the off-topic questions (at least early on, not so much today), but it can also reduce the userbase and general traffic. I don't think that either approach is really wrong.
    – HDE 226868
    Dec 30, 2016 at 15:31
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    Balance is essential, as you said, and that was never achieved. The rigor was too strict in the beginning, which discouraged participation. For example, medical professionals were required to provide citations for accepted science that wouldn't require a citation in an academic setting, which of course just annoyed and frustrated them. After all, nobody gets asked for citations to support Newtonian physics on a physics forum. But now the rigor is reversed and it's hard getting even crap questions closed. I don't know how one achieves balance at this point unless the community does it.
    – Carey Gregory Mod
    Dec 30, 2016 at 16:31
  • I agree with Carey. Content deletion from admins and mods turned away many contributors. Is Health.SE sick? ; How to encourage people to contribute? ; etc. After all my answers got deleted one day, I've restricted myself to only asking questions, and keep the number of comments to a strict minimum (Why did my comment get deleted?). Jan 1, 2017 at 17:09
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    @CareyGregory Keep in mind that I'm not talking about answer moderation, but question closure. What you're talking about is a whole other topic. As an aside, though, I don't buy the argument that it's frustrating to provide citations and that such a practice is therefore wrong. Consider the On-the-Internet-nobody-knows-you're-a-dog argument. I will not trust anyone online on something like a health issue that I can't necessarily confirm myself. I'd trust a doctor I can talk to in person, but not someone behind a screen. On the physics: You can test physics claims yourself, via equations.
    – HDE 226868
    Jan 1, 2017 at 17:25
  • @FranckDernoncourt See my comment to Carey Gregory. I don't buy that argument, and answer moderation is not the subject I was discussing.
    – HDE 226868
    Jan 1, 2017 at 17:25
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    @HDE226868: I think this point is that potentially strong contributors went away, hence nobody closing questions. Jan 1, 2017 at 17:30
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    @HDE226868 I disagree on the citations. All the sciences, including biology and medicine, have established basics that nobody should need to provide citations for, and for which false claims would be immediately recognized as such even by laymen. Having to provide citations for things that anyone will have learned in the 8th grade accomplishes nothing, and that's basically what was being required. It was pedantic and drove knowledgeable people away.
    – Carey Gregory Mod
    Jan 1, 2017 at 21:59
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    @HDE226868 I also disagree that there's a big difference between question moderation and answer moderation. The requirements for the two are somewhat different, but from the end user's perspective if either one is made unnecessarily difficult, you're going to lose contributors. I also think that aggressive deletion of comments and answers for trivial reasons while leaving off topic questions open is a recipe for failure. If mods have the time to aggressively delete comments, then they should also have the time to close OT questions.
    – Carey Gregory Mod
    Jan 1, 2017 at 22:03
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    @HDE226868 Ironically, once of the moderation over-reaches that drove me away from the site is also testable with equations. But they're also conjoined problems - I have effectively left the site, which means the number of high rep users available to curate and trim the site has dropped by one.
    – Fomite
    Jan 8, 2017 at 7:35
  • @CareyGregory Re the citations: Yes, there's definitely a baseline, and I agree that it's absurd that you should have to cite something like, "Humans have two lungs" (which I don't think anyone would need you to cite). I suppose the disagreement is just where that line's crossed, which has a degree of subjectivity.
    – HDE 226868
    Jan 8, 2017 at 15:51
  • I'm sorry to hear that, @Fomite. You've written some excellent posts. I don't know if there's an easy way out here, and I'm not going to pretend that there is. I know you've made your voice heard on meta in the past while I'm new. And yes, it harms the site for everyone - not that I'm blaming this problem on folks like you.
    – HDE 226868
    Jan 8, 2017 at 15:54
  • @CareyGregory So . . . I did some thinking about the above comments and added a long addendum to my answer. It's not technically about the question, but I think it's relevant to a Health meta discussion, and it's about a lot of the points you and others made. Thanks.
    – HDE 226868
    Jan 8, 2017 at 19:56
  • @FranckDernoncourt See the above. ^
    – HDE 226868
    Jan 8, 2017 at 19:56

My question has been answered. It received only two close votes before a mod stepped in two days later and closed it. (I'm not complaining about slow moderators, just the lack of users willing and able to close OT questions.)

Meanwhile, virtually every question posted now is a request for medical advice, they're getting upvotes and the prdictable crap answers, and none of them ever gets more than 1-2 close votes.

Stick a fork in it.


I'm active on a couple of other stacks and thought that I'd help out here a little as I agree that there's relatively few high rep users here to perform basic moderation tasks.

The problem I found is that the community isn't awfully welcoming to new responders (I'm leaving question quality aside here).

I answered a basic question here that other users didn't wish to engage with where a user asked a few questions about healthy computer usage.

I answered these questions with a few bits of advice that are entirely common to the vast majority of office-based computer users. I didn't supply any citations as the advice was pretty straight-forward and at least I helped where others refused to). The OP was happy, upvoted and responded positively.

I then received a pretty harsh rebuke from one of the high-rep users that I didn't supply any citations and implying that my answer was worthless. I deleted my answer, and note this morning that the question has also been removed.

This morning, I see the somewhat disturbing suicide with no pain question:

How to suicide with no pain?My rights are to live but I never asked to come to this world and to face all this.I am not happy and I can't feel happy the only I really want is to die not think not pain,no listening not problems.I bored I hate everything I hate all I haven't reason to live.I am failing I can't stand anymore.I want to give an end to this please guys I am suffer I don't want breath in not breath out.I want to finish is my right to end my life.How can someone dies at home what he can use?No one asks me to bring me here and no one can tell me that's wrong this is the most right thing I will ever done.

Sadly, there's no answers yet. I would have been moved to suggest that the OP should seek professional help, but I'm afraid to answer because I know that any negative comments about my answer will transfer to the OP and add more fuel to their insecurities.

The insistence on supplying citations is a multiple-edged sword. There's a heck of a lot of quackery out there, so up-voting an answer with links are implicitly validating those linked articles. For people sharing their personal knowledge, they're forced to hunt for articles from respectable sources to back up what they already know.

Without some relaxation on the guidelines for answers, we're going to be left with many questions unanswered (but helpfully retagged anyway). And while reasonable, but sub-standard answers not being up-voted, more high-rep users are not being created.

  • I'm the one who downvoted your answer. I downvoted it because it was advice and opinion, not an answer. While I actually agree with you to an extent that the requirements for citations is sometimes a bit overly rigid, I don't agree that pure opinion answers should be allowed. You'll find this has been discussed in meta many times at length. I recommend you read them.
    – Carey Gregory Mod
    Feb 21, 2017 at 14:58
  • As for that suicide question, I just flagged it because I think it needs immediate deletion. If there was ever a question that asked for personal medical advice, it's that one. You'll find that the prohibition on medical advice has also been discussed here at length, and the agreement on that is nearly unanimous. I can imagine nothing more hazardous than a bunch of strangers with no training or experience trying to run a suicide help line. Yes, I know everyone wants to help, but right there is the problem. This is a Q&A site, not a clinic or help line. (more)
    – Carey Gregory Mod
    Feb 21, 2017 at 15:02
  • Well intentioned attempts at preventing suicides are going to go wrong sooner or later. Such questions should be deleted ASAP with nothing more than a comment to seek professional help.
    – Carey Gregory Mod
    Feb 21, 2017 at 15:04
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    @CareyGregory - I guess this hinges on the definition of "opinion". I wouldn't really class generally known common-sense practice as "opinion", but I guess that's only my opinion. The point I'm making is that I attempted to provide an answer in the same vein as I contribute (successfully) on other SE sites. I got myself slapped down for my efforts, so my motivation to contribute further diminishes. If this happens consistently with other people, you'll be left with a large amount of questioners wonder why there's no answers to their questions, and lots of down-votes.
    – user7159
    Feb 21, 2017 at 15:10
  • In short, there's very little incentive for me to contribute in a positive manner, so I simply won't.
    – user7159
    Feb 21, 2017 at 15:13
  • Suit yourself, but all you needed to do was edit your answer to provide some backing for your advice. If it is indeed recognized as a standard of care, it shouldn't be hard to find that support. Do you not get why it's not desirable for anybody to pop in here, ask why this or that hurts, and then get a dozen opinions on the matter? The internet is wall to wall with places you can get medical advice. This forum simply isn't one of them. In fact, it was originally modeled after Skeptics, and was even more strict than it is now.
    – Carey Gregory Mod
    Feb 21, 2017 at 16:55

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