A recent question, What precautions need to be observed to create a food-safe silicone mold?, triggered my radar about a type of question that could potentially be more dangerous than helpful, and I'm hoping the community can consider how these types of questions should be handled.
This example asks what guidelines need to be followed to make a food-safe mold or part. It is basically on topic as a crafting question, and nothing really precludes it, but I'm not aware that this type of question has been asked here before, so the implications haven't been considered. Two related types of questions come to mind with the same issue:
- How do I craft [X] so that it meets [Y] requirements for health or medical safety?
- How do I craft a medical device to treat [X]?
On the surface, these look like crafting questions. But the purpose or driving requirements really require expertise that is outside the site scope. People without the expertise could contribute reasonable-sounding answers, but the gist of any answer is a form of medical advice or has medical implications. People without the proper training may not know what they don't know. Answers could be directly harmful, or miss critical information, and the incomplete information could be harmful.
I'm envisioning a worst-case, far-fetched scenario of a headline, "John Doe died tragically as the result of following well-intended but incorrect advice on the Arts & Crafts web site." :-) We see stories of injuries and fatalities from some of the nutty Tik Tok challenges. The risks from advice on our site are less apparent because it lacks those obvious elements of danger and absurdity.
Beyond that, the quality of the site is primarily in the quality of its content. Content outside the purview of the site's intended scope can't be reliably curated by the community.
Another aspect is that it may well be possible to provide a correct and complete answer, but it might need to be book-length, so beyond the intended scope for the site. Topics like food safety are covered by volumes of regulations and guidance. An answer could be reasonably concise by including extensive references to where to find the information externally. However, answers are intended to be self-contained and not rely on redirecting readers to external information. An answer that basically told the reader where to find the answer would be a low-quality answer. It would need to include a usable summary of the relevant scope.
There are at least five approaches to questions of this nature:
- Make them off-topic. We don't want to encourage people going to a crafting site to get "medical advice" from Internat strangers whose relevant credentials are unknown. This is a bit of a slippery slope, and would require a good definition of what constitutes an off-topic rating for this reason.
- Make them off-topic on the presumptive basis of being too broad to answer, properly and well, within the site's scope. If it turns out that a good concise answer is possible, a reader with that knowledge could raise an exception.
- Leave them on-topic, but add a comment that warns/reminds readers of the dangers of relying on any answers. While this doesn't state a conclusion that any of the information is bad, it has the unfortunate censorship ring of the "disinformation" warnings appearing on some prominent social media platforms on politically or socially unfavored posts. If a thread needs to carry a safety warning, should it be part of the site's content?
- Don't do anything special. Readers are adults, and a certain amount of common sense is required to navigate Internet advice.
- Obviate the need for such questions by providing the basic information in another format. For example, food-safe is an existing tag. The tag infrastructure provides a potential mechanism to cover a topic at a high level, and without the requirements and limitations imposed on answers. Another option would be a FAQ thread on the subject, to which additional content could be added as the need is identified. It also might be possible to include such content in the Help section. Bear in mind that creating and validating such content would require expertise outside the site's scope.
Please weigh in with your thoughts.