A question that falls in the category of the MedicalSciences' equivalent of "identify this movie" seems to come up almost daily. I wanted to discuss where we want to draw the line for these questions.

Between experts/students, a high-level discussion on "what is this" could have scholarly merit. But the vast majority of these on this site are from those lacking the scientific background to propose even a plausible mechanism for their observed correlation - they just are curious.

Please understand, first of all, I love that people are thinking and are curious. These questions are often fascinating. But this site is not well-designed for holding a discussion about these sorts of questions - at least not without a large active body of experts.

Examples of the numerous, frequent issues with these Qs:

  • Often they are built on an incorrect assumption or faulty premise. ("Correlation does not imply causation" but often people observe 2 phenomena and assume they are related even without plausible mechanism.)
  • Frequently the observation is either too specific or not specific enough to be generalize-able, and thus functionally is an individual diagnosis request.
  • Many times an answer would be speculative or opinion-based at best, since the question itself is speculative in nature
  • New users may have difficulty telling the difference between an "identify this" question and a "diagnose me" question, thus potentially inviting more individualized diagnosis questions.
  • When looking at how to answer the question, often I'm wondering where to even start - to answer, even to refute it, would require educating on the fundamental principles that it draws on... and the prospect of having to do that can feel wearying with so few of us here.

How do we as a community want to handle these questions? Specifically, how should we give guidance on this in the scope/guidelines?

Examples (with analysis) - feel free to add more:


This question relates to a question I asked earlier which was How is this requesting personal medical advice? and in the comments, @Narusan pointed to a question previous to that which pointed to the fact that these questions are off topic.

There is a very fine line between asking what a set of symptoms might be as a expert-student discussion and a layperson seeking information based on a set of symptoms they believe they have.

I think as @Narusan also stated later in the comments

I think a good question would be the other way around: What are symptoms of the Brown-Sequard-Syndrome, and how are they caused as an example.

I would treat all questions where a set of symptoms are given for possible diagnosis as personal medical advice.

For it to be considered a student question it should have one or more possible diagnoses and maybe ask symptom differences (how to differentiate) or ask about possible symptoms of the one diagnosis to clarify any issues with diagnostic criteria.

  • Exactly. I wanted to write the same. You should be able to ask "How to differentiate between a pulmonary embolism and a myocardial infarct", but not "I have difficulty breathing and experience chest pain". – Narusan Sep 26 '18 at 11:51

I think the key differentiating factor is with prior research/demonstrated knowledge.

If there are symptoms provided without medical context, off topic.

If there are proposed mechanisms without any research support (Hey I think paperclips cure cancer what do you think?), off topic.

If substantial research has been done and they are looking for the name of a condition they are describing rather than a diagnosis for a set of symptoms, I think it's on-topic.

As an example if someone clearly knew and understood what Duchenne muscular dystrophy was and they were looking for the name of Becker muscular dystrophy, that should be perfectly fine (granted that's an example where I'd wonder why they couldn't find it on their own but it's hard to come up with hypotheticals...maybe they're coming from a genetic rather than clinical understanding and are unaware the condition is even named, I'm not sure). One case might be in translation from other languages as I mentioned in a comment here.

Both of your examples would be off topic in my opinion. Chris has elsewhere suggested a similar close reason to one that is used on Psych&Neuro - I think that's a good close reason for these speculative/under-researched/under-motivated questions.

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