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The gist of this request has been made before, but that post was from 2011 and is effectively due to the passage of time. And the answers there don't reflect what sites have available to them.

The Stack Exchange network has changed significantly since that question was asked, and has introduced sites whose subject matter includes those of licensed professionals. (Engineering, Health, Law ...)

On Engineering Meta and Health Meta, their communities have discussed the matter of site specific disclaimers. After some amount of research, those communities interpreted SE guidance to mean that per-site disclaimers were not necessary. (See Engineering and Health)

But with that being said, Health has a disclaimer:

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as does Law:

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Our Law site has a broader general disclaimer written as a Help Center article based upon some consultation with legal experts. I don't know if Health has an expanded article or not.


And that kind of opens up a whole can of worms for SE to resolve. Doctors, Engineers, Lawyers, Nurses, and other professionals are required to be licensed in order to be allowed to practice their craft1. Having sites built around those professional experiences opens the door to misinterpretation regarding professional advice being offered within an answer.

Having a few sites, but not all sites, with a per-site disclaimer is also problematic. It opens the door for someone to state "Law has a disclaimer, but Engineering doesn't. Therefore I can put more trust in the answers on Engineering as professional advice." It's a bit absurd but it is a common logical fallacy and the claims will happen.

It will also lead to answers that start with "I am not a licensed professional engineer in your jurisdiction and this answer cannot be construed as professional engineering advice." Which is just wordy, unwieldy, and kind of ugly looking.

My request:

Would SE please pick one of the two options or come up with a superior option?

  • Provide a general disclaimer for all sites that involve licensed professionals

or

  • Provide clearer guidance within the Terms of Service / FAQ / wherever as well as removing all per-site disclaimers.

1 Note: not all roles in those fields require licensure. But by and large, they are licensed professions.

  • Related MSE question: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/266178/… – GlenH7 Jan 28 '16 at 15:35
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    For the record, my previous request is not "status-complete" on Mi Yodeya or on any other site other than the two you've pointed to. The disclaimer pointed to in Jeff Atwood's answer was significantly limited and no longer exists. – Isaac Moses Jan 28 '16 at 17:19
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    Update: now it's complete on Mi Yodeya, thanks to this post. – Isaac Moses Jan 28 '16 at 18:32
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To the extent that these disclaimers have any value, I believe it is to the folks writing for these sites - answering questions - more than those reading. Indeed, this was the motivating factor on Health, and to a lesser extent Law as well: having the disclaimer on every page removes a lot of the pressure on those answering to include a variation in their answers, which would be noisy and unpleasant.

Why would such pressure exist? Well, in very litigious professions, giving advice - even general information - can be seen as inviting trouble; doctors and lawyers know all too many stories of colleagues getting sued by folks who took advice and suffered from it. By explicitly disclaiming suitability for this purpose, they hope to avoid this outcome.

Not that it's at all a likely outcome. The chances of someone getting sued for an answer provided on an Internet message board are pretty slim; the chance of such a lawsuit being successful even more so. But what really matters here is perception, and the disclaimer helps put at ease the minds of these people who already have too much legal nonsense to worry about.

To this end, two things are required of the disclaimers:

  1. They're visible. A note in the ToS doesn't help much.
  2. They're specific. There's already a general-purpose note in the ToS, but it's not crystal-clear whether it applies to individual authors, professions, or fields of study. Saying this site isn't a substitute for individual diagnosis or this site isn't a substitute for individual legal advice makes it clear that the disclaimer applies to the answer being written right now on this page.

None of this precludes other disclaimers on other sites in the future... But it does set a threshold for need: if folks are comfortable answering questions without it, then don't waste the space on it.

  • If I'm reading your answer correctly, then sites should be able to request a per-site disclaimer, right? How would you propose the mechanics of that to work? It should be pretty easy to guess which site I'll request a disclaimer for... – GlenH7 Jan 28 '16 at 15:53
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    Meta post on the site to gauge interest and suggestions for wording. Good argument for why professionals answering on the site are being hurt by the lack of a disclaimer. For example, "without this disclaimer, we will never be as successful as Health". ...would probably not be an effective argument on your engineering site. To be honest, I'm not sure what would be a reasonable argument there. – Shog9 Jan 28 '16 at 15:59
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    Professional engineers can be held liable for professional advice in much the same way that doctors or lawyers can. – GlenH7 Jan 28 '16 at 16:31
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    @Shog9, we have a long-standing request on Mi Yodeya that meets your criteria. There is a great deal of discomfort in the Jewish community with answering questions about Jewish law in public, and I know people whose participation on Mi Yodeya has been limited and/or stunted as a result of this discomfort. We have great deal of literature on our Meta about this, going back to the very beginning of the community. – Isaac Moses Jan 28 '16 at 16:35
  • Just to be clear, the (very) slim possibility of being sued over an answer isn't a reason for a disclaimer, @GlenH7 - the ToS suffices for that. It's all about perception. – Shog9 Jan 28 '16 at 20:41
  • @Shog9 - One of our Engineering users pointed out that Engineers participating in Engineering.SE could be held liable for practicing engineering without a license by various states. Have a read of this answer: meta.engineering.stackexchange.com/a/419/16 – GlenH7 Jan 28 '16 at 20:43
  • I'm not familiar with that particulars issue, @glen... But if it applies, I'm not sure a disclaimer will help. IOW, if you're doing engineering and the state doesn't like that, a bit of text that says "not real engineering" probably won't placate them. – Shog9 Jan 28 '16 at 20:44
  • @Shog9 - It's a fairly involved issue in that regards. Let me think a bit to see if I can come up with a summarized version of it. The short answer is that I think not only will a disclaimer help but it may also be required. – GlenH7 Jan 28 '16 at 20:53

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