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At last count, there are 149 Stack Exchange communities. Only 2 have prominent disclaimers on their main page: Health and Law. The other 147 do not. (It appears that Judaism used to have one too, but that is no longer the case.)

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Are there good reasons for why Health and Law in particular should have such disclaimers, but not any of the other 147?

Should Stack Exchange institute some uniform policy, regarding whether any particular Stack Exchange community is allowed to have its disclaimer?

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These disclaimers exist to put our users' minds at ease. Not those people who are visiting, really, but those who are answering the questions. While it is very unlikely that anyone on those sites would ever post something that would actually get them into trouble, because they know better than to do that, having that disclaimer helps them feel better. Some of our users are too afraid to say anything on those sites without having the disclaimer to back them up, and a lot of them will keep pasting that disclaimer into every single answer they post. So if adding a simple disclaimer to the site will help people participate comfortably, then it makes sense to add the disclaimer.

None of our other sites really exhibits this problem. No one is ever really afraid of telling someone how to build their computer, or how to fix their car, or how to cook their food so it doesn't poison their guests. Medicine and Law just happen to be two very touchy subjects because there are some pretty hefty laws around them that scare people.

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    Please add Engineering to the list of heavily regulated professions with their own site here. Engineers have the same concerns with being sued for advice given or for appearing to practice without a license. – hazzey Jan 28 '16 at 3:14
  • Please add Mi Yodeya to the list of sites where people have expressed concerns about participating due to readers getting the wrong impression about what the site offers, and where people frequently add rote disclaimers into posts to indicate that they're not offering professional advice. Reinstating a disclaimer on the front page, like Health and Law now have, would be very helpful. – Isaac Moses Jan 28 '16 at 16:30
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I think one reason is to waive all responsibilities, not just from SE, but also from the users posting an answer. And it doesn't only protect the contributors, but also the ones seeking advice.

Some countries (I don't care to find which ones exactly, and maybe SE feels the same), have strict rules regarding who can give legal or medical advice. The banner is there (legally seen) to say very clearly that users shouldn't expect 'expert' advice. Of course, they can find expert advice here, but no one should legally rely on finding it here.

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That only 2 out of 149 communities have such disclaimers, help to perpetuate the myth that there is something special about health and law; that when it comes to these two specific spheres of human life, there is somehow a priesthood of experts who have a monopoly over the truth; that those who have not spent many hundreds of thousands of dollars and years on medical or law school are not allowed to speak.

The way I see it, one goal of Stack Exchange, which is premised on the idea of expert communities, is to prove that you can get expert information and advice on the internet for free, instead of forking out wads of money to a "qualified professional". Having any such disclaimers perpetuate the myth that mere internet sites like Stack Exchange cannot possibly furnish any valuable information.

In most countries besides the USA, the freedom to express your views and give advice about health or law is no less than the freedom to do likewise for say travel or sports. It is primarily in the USA that people have been conditioned by excessive litigation to be very fearful of expressing their views about health or law.

Why, may I ask, is there not a similar disclaimer on Travel that looks like this:

Travel Stack Exchange is for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for individualized advice from a qualified travel agent.

After all, traveling can be every bit as hazardous as any health or legal issue. Go to the wrong place and you might be raped and murdered. Go to the wrong country and you may be kidnapped or wrongfully imprisoned.

Or a similar disclaimer on Martial Arts? (Make the wrong move and you might die.) Or on Mathematics? (Make the wrong calculations when designing a bridge or a spacecraft and you might die.)

Such a disclaimer on Travel, or Martial Arts, or Mathematics would be absurd. But to most people around the world, such disclaimers are no less absurd than the disclaimers we have on Health and Law now. It is only to the American that a Mathematics disclaimer is more absurd---only Americans have been conditioned by excessive litigation to be very fearful of giving medical or legal advice.

I therefore recommend one of the following options:

  1. Allow no disclaimers on any Stack Exchange site.
  2. Have disclaimers on every Stack Exchange site, so that Law and Health do not appear to be in any way special or privileged.
  3. Limit such disclaimers to US users, if the American fear of litigation is the primary reason for such disclaimers.

When anyone on the internet dispenses advice, be it on Health, Law, Travel, Martial Arts, or Mathematics, I know how to judge if it's good advice (hey, and we even have a voting system here!) and take it with a pinch of salt. I don't need to be slapped in the face with a silly disclaimer.

People from the rest of the world should not be subject to the same fear and intimidation that Americans are accustomed to, when it comes to health and law.

P.S. If there are other countries in the world where health and law similarly occupy a privileged position, I apologize. But AFAIK, this is a uniquely American phenomenon.

This answer was adapted from an answer originally posted on meta.health. Nobody noticed my answer there; so someone suggested I post this here instead for greater visibility.

  • Would the person who downvoted about 30 seconds after I posted the above answer, care to suggest how I could improve my question and answer? – Kenny LJ Sep 11 '15 at 13:12
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    I did another DV, since trusting random people on the Internet with my litigation or medication is dangerous. I can live with users' advice on traveling since I don't trust travel agents. – Deer Hunter Sep 11 '15 at 13:18
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    @DeerHunter: Fair enough. I disagree with you, but at least you have given your reason and added to the discussion here. Someone here downvoted literally 30 seconds after I posted my answer, which suggests either genius levels of reading and mental processing speeds or a knee-jerk reaction. – Kenny LJ Sep 11 '15 at 13:22
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    While I tend to agree that Law and Health are indeed not special, that every user should be able to judge how valuable advice from the internet is and that those disclaimers seem a bit overanxious, your generally reasonable idea is packed into quite a bit of a rant with quite some unnecessary and derogatory bias towards the US, which unfortunately dillutes this at its core interesting answer into nothing but a rant. – Christian Rau Sep 11 '15 at 14:30
  • @KennyLJ maybe they are just someone who has already read this post in Health previously, and still disagree with you. Anyway, check out another meta post on Health which I believe that it's similar to yours. I think the reason the site attracts personal questions is because of its name – Ooker Sep 11 '15 at 16:19
  • You're probably right. But then again, lots of legal professionals are actually worried about this and a disclaimer of this type can help to alleviate such concerns; same for medical professionals. I've spoken to a handful of law students and practicing lawyers, and a attorney-client relationship can be formed on the internet. That's what they're worried about. Are you purporting to alienate the professionals from such communities? If we want expert answers to questions, we should try to take reasonable steps to attract them. – jimsug Dec 21 '15 at 1:00
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    Sorry for bringing up something from the past, but Health and Legal professionals are different. In the US, they are licensed professionals and can be held criminally or civilly liable for their professional actions. Professional engineers fall into this same category. There is something to be said regarding the absurdity of trusting advice presented on the internet, but that's an orthogonal discussion to the point that those professions can be held liable in the general case. – user194162 Jan 28 '16 at 16:02

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