That's wrong, sorry. December 1, 2014 6:18 PM   Subscribe

I believe that AskMe answers that are factually incorrect (and thus dangerous) should be deleted.

This was discussed recently from the POV of medical advice.

The simple reality is that some AskMe questions ask about stuff where opinion is invalid, or at least uninformed opinion is invalid, because there is objective fact that matters.

I am speaking in this case specifically of food safety questions, but there are many questions where people ask for answers and there are pretty yes/no answers--and yet a lot of people feel free to jump in with uninformed answers.

I am aware, of course, that part of the solution is to flag such answers. The other part of that is for mods to actually delete them. I am asking for mods to do so, because--again, speaking of food safety--many answers about factual, quantitative yes/no questions are actively dangerous. They may not be dangerous specifically to the question-asker, but given AskMe's prominence on google/etc, I believe there is a moral duty of care to the people who are searching to read, but not asking themselves.

tldr version: There are experts who know more, and when it comes to quantitative questions only, those experts need to be granted more weight than non-experts.

To outline my concerns with food safety questions:

- smelling is not a valid test of badness;
- heating is not a valid way to get rid of badness--depends on the pathogen in question, in terms of both temperature and time
- the Danger Zone is an actually scientifically validated Thing and should be considered
- An enormous number of people end up in emergency rooms every year due to foodborne pathogens
- EAT ALL THE THINGS yes, but be aware of safety, please.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering to Etiquette/Policy at 6:18 PM (200 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

I am aware, of course, that part of the solution is to flag such answers.

One thing to keep in mind is that for cases where the issue is the especially problematic wrongness of an answer, rather than a more askme-centric issue like a comment not answering the question or being offensively phrased, it may be a good idea to drop us a line at the contact form to explain the specific issue. Seeing a flag on a comment that isn't clearly violating the specific guidelines of the site can leave us unclear on what the intention is, and, as weird as this feels sometimes, being wrong or uninformed about an answer is not generally speaking itself a violation of the guidelines.

Beyond that, I hear you on the core concern, and we're fine with folks trying to let us know about stuff like this. One thing that I think needs to be kept in mind is that people do have different risk assessment processes and acceptable risk levels, so folks aren't going to necessarily agree on what is a sufficiently safe/conservative place to draw the line, though answers that point to clear information on risk factors are always a pretty good way to go since it's less "eat it or don't because that's what I'd do" and more "here's info on risks related to eating it".

To an extent I think "should I eat this?" questions are problematic at a basic level because even with good food-safety advice in play there's an aspect of palm-reading to it—will I regret it or not, rather than what is the quantified distribution of risk of regret involved in eating it—but I also don't see a clean path to saying "do not ever ask about food on Ask", nor to a policy of "only trained food safety experts can answer these questions", and without either of those policies in place it's the case that folks are sometimes going to give non-scientific gut feelings or anecdotal reports of preference/inclination about this stuff.
posted by cortex (staff) at 6:30 PM on December 1, 2014 [10 favorites]


I agree with the general concern, but: most food safety questions are not quantitative. There is no "factually correct" answer to "should I eat this?" This is, in most regards, a cultural question about risk evaluation. I also agree that posters should not post factually incorrect information, but if it were reasonable to expect the mods to be able to accurately evaluate the veracity of all responses, we could just shutter the Green and have it be AskTheOmniscientMods! Which would be awesome. But.
posted by threeants at 6:31 PM on December 1, 2014 [28 favorites]


Basically the problem seems to be not one of principle, but of practicality. I just can't imagine how the mods could be expected to apply wrong-answer deletion across hundreds of thousands of topics. I'm sure if they see an answer with two hundred flags saying "yeah, definitely put your infant on top of a bunch of spikes, that is a very wise thing to do which I recommend!!" they delete it. But ultimately this is asking of mods a level of expertise-- or discernment of expertise, which hardly seems easier-- that seems pretty vast and extensive.
posted by threeants at 6:37 PM on December 1, 2014 [6 favorites]


Mandatory food safety courses for all mods pls
posted by prize bull octorok at 6:55 PM on December 1, 2014 [16 favorites]


Eponysterical, OP? :)
posted by masquesoporfavor at 6:57 PM on December 1, 2014 [25 favorites]


Yeah, this seems pretty unfair to the mods, and a pretty rigorous standard to apply in any world.
posted by mynameisluka at 7:11 PM on December 1, 2014 [2 favorites]


Would this require mods to be experts on things that they perhaps aren't qualified to mitigate? It seems to me that this might be a tall order that would require the expertise of others anyway before hitting the delete button, in which case perhaps those individuals could speak up in the thread to redirect where appropriate, based on their areas of knowledge, where the record could reflect the error and correction.

I just envision meta-arguments about whether or not a deleted answer was actually factual or not, especially in some areas where there is disagreement between experts.
posted by SpacemanStix at 7:31 PM on December 1, 2014


My experience of AskMe is that the general intelligence of the community makes dire handwaving admonitions to delete EVERY SINGLE LAST WWRRROOONGGGG ANSWER unnecessary.

A typical question plays out like this:

Q: should I eat this moldy food? The mold is bluish white with a mauve tinge in the hairs and it smells like something between the woods in autumn and the antiseptic that was used to wash down hospital corridors until the mid-1980's. (More recent antiseptics smell quite different.)

A1: no, probably poison.
A2: definitely not. poison poison poison.
A3: go to this website which tells you what foods are okay to eat and what they smell like.
A4: I'd eat it. What's the worst that can happen?
A5: death awaits you if you eat that. What, are you stupid? If your fridge is that empty I'll send you something.
A6: no, definitely don't eat it. A4 is an idiot.
A7: no.

So this happens, and then people get bent out of shape and start up a META because A4 was not deleted. It is OBJECTIVELY WRONG, and the mods who are blessed with omniscience in all objective things certainly know this. There is no reason to let it stand.

I disagree. There is a good reason to let it stand. The mods are not omniscient. The community is also not omniscient, but the community is pretty damn smart. We also rely on the people who ask questions to exercise a modicum of intelligence in digesting (ahem) the answers they receive. We count on Metafilter Askers being able to decode the truth in the following pattern:

No, no, no, yes, no, maybe, yes-was-wrong-its-no, I-did-and-lived, no, no, no.

If someone asks a question and gets those answers, they better be able to decode AskMe's best approximation of the OBJECTIVE TRUTH or else all hope for our community is lost.

Note: this answer is objectively correct in my personal opinion and applies to all medical, legal, and food-borne questions. It does not apply to relationship questions, where incorrect answers should be deleted by the mods.
posted by alms at 7:45 PM on December 1, 2014 [53 favorites]


Just to add, I do agree that correct advice is a valid concern. I just wonder if it's one of practicality that can be allowed to solve itself by allowing for more dynamic interaction in the discussion thread. (Of course, there's the issue about not arguing with others in thread, but it's been pulled off before in a way that still addresses a particular question.) For example, if I said something really lame about food safety, I'd really appreciate it if you came into the thread to provide something of a corrective so that I don't actually give advice that would kill someone. The asker can then be trusted to navigate the evidence towards the better solution, based on the credibility of the expert.
posted by SpacemanStix at 7:50 PM on December 1, 2014 [2 favorites]


I'd argue that much of food safety opinionating is not, in fact, a matter of facts, but a matter of probabilities. What do you propose the moderators do about answers such as "you'll probably be fine" or "I'd eat that"? Those are not factually wrong. In the most recent example that appears to have been the straw that broke the camel's back, I'm not sure how you can claim there's a clear yes/no, right/wrong answer when you yourself say that you wouldn't advice anyone else to eat it but that you yourself would. Eating the ravioli unequivocally wrong, yet you would do so anyhow?
posted by drlith at 7:50 PM on December 1, 2014 [3 favorites]


drlith, you're eliding the greater detail I went into there.

It's unequivocally wrong to advise others to do something dangerous.

It is factually wrong that smell/taste will tell you if probably contaminated food is okay. The latter concern is what I would like to see addressed, in a general way across AskMe.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:00 PM on December 1, 2014


I know I'm not the only person who limits their involvement in discussions that are particularly close to my work, because indeed there is something unhappy about seeing things that are Wrong in quite such obvious ways.

That said, though, it's also a function of how people word their questions or frame their FPPs. There's a big difference between something general like "Should I eat this?" and the specificity of "Does this meet modern food handling standards?" Even the first can get factually wrong (and as you note, even possibly dangerously wrong) answers, but within that there is a huge space for sort-of-wrong and ambiguous answers.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:15 PM on December 1, 2014 [5 favorites]


It's unequivocally wrong to advise others to do something dangerous.

This is not actually true, or rather the concept of "danger" is actually mushy. There's a personal risk assessment procedure people need to go through and this includes needing to be mindful of other people's level of risk tolerance. So while I might tell someone in AskMe (in some hypothetical question about good ways to see Frozen) to try dropping acid when you go see Frozen, that's actually a matter of personal opinion and my own risk tolerance, not "wrong" (but also not right). It's me telling you a thing. And someone might try it and something terrible might happen to them because of the unique makeup of their own brain and nervous system but that's not something that falls under the category of Things AskMe Can Usefully Prevent.

Similarly "I ate that thing under similar circumstances and did not die" is me telling you a thing. "You should try it because you will definitely not die" is more of a dicey opinion but I think we trust people to be adults and know how to assess their own risk tolerance. Part of allowing people to freely exchange information (without mods pre-screening it, or doing a fact-checking thing on it) is that we trust people to use their own best judgment or, barring that, to assess the information that other people are giving them through a filter of their own level of risk tolerance.

This is why suicide questions aren't allowed (and some questions by people who seem to be in the throes of a mental illness are disallowed) because they are the rare cases in which it maybe is felt that the person isn't in their right mind. But if they are? They should be able to assess information for themselves. And bad information can be countered with good information. And we all have to realize that the world of maybes is a lot more of the world than the absolute yesses and nos.
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 8:18 PM on December 1, 2014 [38 favorites]


The problem is when that risk assessment is being skewed by wrong-but-believable information--like the canard that just cooking something will make it fine. It won't, and people will make different risk assessments based on having that data or not.

I'm not only talking about food answers; they're just an example.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:21 PM on December 1, 2014


Your specific example is one in which even experts might present a range of answers. European food safety inspectors for example, licensed professionals in their fields, would give different answers from US food safety inspectors regarding "should I eat that" questions.

I'm the one who posted the medical issue and my point wasn't supposed to be, "wrong answers should be deleted", my point was that you don't have to be an expert to give useful feedback. And that the people who arrive in a thread only to state that the asker should seek expert advice are often factually incorrect. So since their answers are factually incorrect and not answering the question, I think those answers should be considered for deletion. My point was the opposite of yours! Because I think having a range of non-expert answers is fine, as long as each answer has some reasonable rationale based on knowledge or experience, and expresses that rationale with some degree of clarity.
posted by latkes at 8:22 PM on December 1, 2014 [7 favorites]


That's my point, latkes. People saying (again, this is just an example) that food that smells fine is fine, or that cooking it will make it fine to eat, do not have a rationale based on knowledge. They have a rationale based on persistent urban legend. That is the problem. And it is not limited to food questions--it also slices right through medical and legal questions.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:24 PM on December 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


I think any reasonable person is not going to just wait for the first person to come along and tell them over the internet that eating that is fine. I mean, you wait for the general consensus to come out, and also since you can't prove a negative -- saying "if it smells bad it's bad" isn't the same as saying "if it doesn't smell bad it's safe" (though sure, spelling out that distinction is probably better). Anyone who knows anything about anything is probably aware that, y'know, you can choke on a small amount of water, so by that logic eating anything is not 100% safe, but it's about making a risk assessment rather than being ironclad right about everything.

OK, so given that we're in some kind of grayscale spectrummy thing here, where do you propose that mods draw the line? Or even, how? I'm not sure it's feasible to implement this suggestion, even if we could agree that we should.
posted by axiom at 8:35 PM on December 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


But actually, their rationale is based on real life experience, not urban legend. I don't know anyone who has gotten food poisoning from prepared food left out in their own kitchen overnight. And statistically, I'm pretty sure this scenario is pretty rare.

I do know people (self included) who have gotten food poisoning from poorly stored/handled/prepared restaurant food. That's what food safety regulations are for and thank goodness for them. But the big no-nos of home food handling are pretty well known. Known enough that if someone asks AskMe: "Should I eat this meat that I heated, froze, reheated, and then left on the counter with a pile of warm mayonnaise?", they will get the answer to throw that shit in the trash, pronto.

Anyway, my point is, people's real life experience is valid, and most of us have enough experience with food to provide a fairly reasonable range of answers based purely on life experience and basic common knowledge.

Some complex technical questions are not well answered with a "Sure, I don't see why you can't just re-wire your own house without consulting a manual! It sounds like fun!" But home food handling is a task that most humans on the planet do every single day without severe consequence. Point in fact, straightforward medical and legal issues are handled daily by laypeople too, also without serious ill effect. I'm sure you take Tylenol without consulting a doctor, even though it's a potentially life-threatening medication. We are able to make these decisions without experts, and although well researched or even expert answers are very helpful in AskMe, simpler answers based on experience or common knowledge are also generally helpful.
posted by latkes at 8:37 PM on December 1, 2014 [15 favorites]


And it is not limited to food questions--it also slices right through medical and legal questions.

Indeed. And there have been legal professionals and medical professionals that have left the community because the mods aren't willing to take a hardline stance on bad/non-industry standard advice.

I'm not saying I agree with it, but it's been this way since AskMe started, and they don't seem like they're willing to change things. My best advice is to customize AskMe to where you only see questions that don't raise your professional hackles or politely express your professional point of view and let the askers decide for themselves.
posted by Ufez Jones at 8:37 PM on December 1, 2014 [3 favorites]


It's not the 'should I eat it' that is the question at play here. It is the giving of advice that is actually completely wrong, that skews the risk assessment, and can make people ill or dead because they haven't actually been given accurate data for assessing risk.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:42 PM on December 1, 2014


Which is more informative?

---
Answer 1: Cooking rotten food kills all the bad stuff so it's okay to eat.
Answer 2: Actually, cooking rotten food may kill some pathogens but it might not kill all of them and it certainly doesn't destroy the toxins that may have been created by the pathogens and left in the rotten food before they were killed.
--

or

---
Answer 1:
Answer 2:
---

I know that in general people are not supposed to argue in AskMe threads, and I support that rule. But in practice there is a corrective dialect that happens and which is actually informative and more valuable than if certain answers were never given at all.

In particular, many people don't understand the distinction between live pathogens and their persistent by-products, and those people may learn something by seeing incorrect answers that get subsequently corrected.

Are we really seeing a sufficient number of cases where that doesn't happen to place this burden of objective truth on the mods?

posted by alms at 8:43 PM on December 1, 2014 [13 favorites]


...it is the giving of advice that is actually completely wrong, that skews the risk assessment, and can make people ill or dead because they haven't actually been given accurate data for assessing risk.

Which specific answers are you thinking of? I find this kind of answer extremely rare. I can't think of any!
posted by latkes at 8:46 PM on December 1, 2014 [2 favorites]


This idea seems like it's coming from a good place, but, as others have mentioned, the implementation seems somewhere between tricky and impossible.

It is quantitatably true that that six-syllable thing is a bad name for a kitten.
posted by box at 8:47 PM on December 1, 2014


Which specific answers are you thinking of? I find this kind of answer extremely rare

The smell test thing comes up in virtually every SIEA thread, the notion that cooking makes things automatically fine in almost as many, it seems.

Again, however, I am talking about the general case and using an example.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:48 PM on December 1, 2014


But I think you could also argue that this advice is basically harmless. I mean, it would be harmful if this advice was used in place of food handling guidelines in commercial or large-scale food production settings, but is it actually life threatening when given as an answer to "should I eat the ravioli I left out of the fridge for 22 hours?"
posted by latkes at 8:51 PM on December 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


Which specific answers are you thinking of? I find this kind of answer extremely rare

Here is the specific recent answer suggesting that sniffing and cooking it thoroughly are adequate for dealing with improperly stored food.

I'm not sure how common dangerously wrong answers are, but just plain wrong answers, plus sort-of-wrong answers, are super common.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:54 PM on December 1, 2014


I don't know, that answer was like, "Here's what I would do..." not "This is the science of food safety" and then gives a fairly reasonable answer that is highly unlikely to lead to death.
posted by latkes at 8:56 PM on December 1, 2014 [3 favorites]


This is an idea that has come up a lot over the years, as noted above, and I think the bar is set in a good place.

And bad information can be countered with good information.

This, and alms' point of view, are where I land on the question. Bad information can be debunked and countered with good information, presented with authority and evidence. That improves the record overall, for everyone to see, over all the time it stays up online. I prefer more information that includes some bad information to less information. There can be 10 bad answers clearly outclassed by one informed and supported answer. People make decisions about this sort of question every day without benefit of AskMe, and just ask the other uninformed people around them before making a decision; here we have a resource where an informed opinion can directly respond to an uninformed one, which might make a difference not just for the user but for all readers. That's a good thing.

People in professions with strict rules about when they are and aren't advising someone on matters relevant to those professions need to consult their own industry codes of ethics before choosing to reply. Those codes of ethics exist for all sorts of situations like this - casual dinner-table conversations, chatter at the gym, and MeFi. Those codes work here too because they're aimed at the individual professional, not at the world who might encounter and misconstrue them. I don't believe that the task of policing their responsibility to their professional communities lies with MetaFilter's mods. Those who left didn't leave because of "wrong answers" but because they had trouble translating a professional code of ethics that might advise them to keep silent to an environment in which they also wanted to employ their authority.
posted by Miko at 8:57 PM on December 1, 2014 [4 favorites]


place this burden of objective truth on the mods?

That's the practical matter here, really. I don't see how you can expect the mods to delete answers based on authority unless they become authorities themselves. Or should they always defer to any "expert" that (hypothetically) flags something as 'factually incorrect'? (And who vets the experts?) And is the "correct information" based on the USDA or the asker's local food standards? And what if no one is around to catch incorrect answers? I mean, I understand your frustration and sympathize with your concern but how do you actually see this working?
posted by Room 641-A at 8:58 PM on December 1, 2014 [5 favorites]


Should we delete any advice which doesn't insist you have to cook beef to a shoe-leather like consistency at a minimum 145F? Because that's what they would tell you.
posted by Justinian at 9:01 PM on December 1, 2014 [2 favorites]


I don't really know how to make this clearer. Giving people advice that could kill them or make them gravely ill, because that advice is lacking information vital to making one's own risk assessment, is a bad thing.

Is it likely that the OP could eat that ravioli and be fine? Yes. Is it likely that the OP and anyone else reading something that says "just cook it, it'll be fine" is one day going to be made quite ill because they read that? Yes.

Like I said in the post, lots of people read AskMe every day. Including, it's fair to assume, for SIEI questions. These people should not be walking away with "it's okay if I cook it" in their heads, because their risk assessment is now "well as long as it gets hot it's fine" and off they go serving potentially dangerous food to themselves and people they know because they think it's okay now. When it won't be for a non-trivial number of people.

And is the "correct information" based on the USDA or the asker's local food standards?

The two specific things I am talking about are pure science and have nothing to do with different guidelines about food handling in different places. "It was left at X temperature for Y time" is a guideline that varies, sure. "Cooking will not kill everything that can hurt you" is not, except inasmuch as there are differing guidelines as to exactly how long at what temperature something needs in order to render pathogens inert.

I don't know how it would work. That is why I made a MeTa post, to garner ideas.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:02 PM on December 1, 2014


It's unequivocally wrong to advise others to do something dangerous.

Is it? Driving in a car is much more dangerous than eating food that's been left out, but plenty of people in AskMe give responses that recommend the OP drive somewhere.
posted by threeants at 9:19 PM on December 1, 2014 [25 favorites]


How about everybody just replace "should I eat it" with "would you eat it" in their heads and call it a day? In the bulk of these threads (or at least in my own SIEI thread), the OP isn't asking for verified answers from a food safety warden, they're getting a general feel of the community on whether they're about to do a very stupid thing, or just a mildly stupid thing. Because really, if you're here asking you're already aware that there's some risk.

I personally see AskMeFi as essentially the same as asking a bunch of friends at work, or on facebook, or whatever. You take the answers with the same grain of salt. There are no mods at work to tell me that Joe in Accounting's food safety advice is wrong and should be stricken from the record. At least here if I ask a really stupid question y'all will actually tell me instead of not because you're trying to be polite.
posted by cgg at 9:20 PM on December 1, 2014 [10 favorites]


I don't really know how to make this clearer.

I think you've been pretty clear. You believe that if the responses to a question are (to quote alms) "No, no, no, yes, no, maybe, yes-was-wrong-its-no, I-did-and-lived, no, no, no", that the one "yes" is nonetheless out there and causing damage. Maybe because someone might read only one answer in the whole thread, or because that single occurrence establishes some homeopathic level of toxicity, which covertly skews the reader's unconscious judgment.

I just disbelieve in the reality of subtly harmful ideas whose damage is done by their mere presence. But then again, I feel the same way when those ideas are political or social as well. One could see this thread as abstractly similar to earlier MeTas about tolerance of unpopular opinions.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 9:58 PM on December 1, 2014 [2 favorites]


I agree with feckless fecal fear mongering, and I'm glad he posted his comment. At the same time I agree with jessamyn. It's so confusing!
posted by Bella Donna at 10:27 PM on December 1, 2014 [4 favorites]


There were actually a couple answers today that worried me, but it wasn't "yes, go ahead and eat that". (one two)

It was "Your appliance is making arcing sounds and you smell ozone and burning insulation. Don't worry about it; keep using it!"

And there were several more which agreed.

Now electrocution and fire are a lot more dangerous than contaminated food, and a new microwave oven ain't that expensive. The majority of answers were "Toss it and get a new one" (including mine) but I'm bothered by the number of people who said, "Electric arcs? No problem!"
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:55 PM on December 1, 2014 [3 favorites]


I just don't see how the mods can be expected to know when things are truly "wrong" in the wide range of fields that show up. Sure, if you point out a couple of obvious facts and provide links, they could be convinced. But can't you put those in the AskMe thread, and save them the impossible task of deciding who knows "enough" to declare an answer objectively wrong?
posted by freebird at 10:58 PM on December 1, 2014 [2 favorites]


I disagree with the OP. His proposal sets the expectation, for one, that if an answer hasn't been deleted then it is factually correct; which is absurd.

It isn't the mods job to weigh and assess differing claims of rightness; that's not how AskMefi works, because it's not a workable way for AskMefi to work.

A better approach would be for fffm, as an apparent expert on food safety, to draft an answer that is so scintillatingly right that it can be linked to forever, like Miko's breakup advice.
posted by Sebmojo at 11:23 PM on December 1, 2014 [14 favorites]


It's unequivocally wrong to advise others to do something dangerous.

Yeah no, sorry. That's just not the cast-iron fact that you're portraying it as. In fact, I'm going to petition the mods to delete the comment for that very reason.

To misrepresent the level of danger involved in a particular course of action is probably closer to something you could get consensus on being 'wrong', but that is totally not the same thing. After all, if we could never advise a dangerous course of action, we'd have to answer every 'how do I fix my car'/'should I engine brake?' question with 'I cannot advise you to fix your car/engine brake, you should instead just take the bus as driving is dangerous'. Which is silly.
posted by Dysk at 11:34 PM on December 1, 2014 [2 favorites]


feckless fecal fear mongering: “People saying (again, this is just an example) that food that smells fine is fine, or that cooking it will make it fine to eat, do not have a rationale based on knowledge. They have a rationale based on persistent urban legend. That is the problem. And it is not limited to food questions--it also slices right through medical and legal questions.”

If someone asks a question about a problem about which there is a persistent and dangerous urban legend, then it emphatically should be discussed and confronted in the answers.

If someone mentions credulously a persistent and dangerous urban legend in the answers to a question, we emphatically should not delete that comment. We should confront it, with facts, and say why it is wrong.

If we don't actually confront dangerous and persistent urban legends, but instead delete and ignore them – allowing them to persist – then we're doing a serious disservice to the people who ask questions on our site.

You said above that it's unequivocally wrong to advise someone to do something dangerous. People have picked at that a bit, but I think what you meant was that it's wrong for us to leave advice on the site when we know that the misinformation in said advice could hurt people. I can see where you're coming from on that, but it seems more wrong to me to delete and ignore common misconceptions that could hurt people. They need to be confronted and dealt with.
posted by koeselitz at 11:42 PM on December 1, 2014 [8 favorites]


I would never rely on Ask MetaFilter for advice about food safety. Often the answers are cavalier, bordering on pathologically irresponsible ("oh, people worry too much about refrigeration, what a bunch of safety freaks, go on, eat it!") and then there is the idiotic idea that if you reheat food it will "kill bacteria." The "should I eat it" threads are the antithesis of what Ask Metafilter is supposed to be.
posted by Nevin at 11:43 PM on December 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


This is why suicide questions aren't allowed (and some questions by people who seem to be in the throes of a mental illness are disallowed) because they are the rare cases in which it maybe is felt that the person isn't in their right mind. But if they are? They should be able to assess information for themselves. And bad information can be countered with good information. And we all have to realize that the world of maybes is a lot more of the world than the absolute yesses and nos.

I dunno about that. Are people good at assessing evidence carefully and correctly? We all seem to hold quite a lot of bad and incorrect beliefs for that to be the case. There are lots of examples of people who should know better who are actually not very good at judging the correct answer.

Of course in practice it's a bit of a high standard to ask the mods to know the correct answer, because if they did then there wouldn't be much point to ask me as a crowd sourcing resource. I guess we can look at two cases

1)if it's one bad answer in a host of good ones, then we can reasonably sure that the op will pick a "good" one.
2)If it's one good answer in a host of bad ones, this could be more of an issue. If the "good" answer comes across as better sourced and well informed, it might be convincing, but maybe it'll get drowned out in the noise.

2 seems tricky to deal with, because it essentially relies on the mods reading the thread and deciding that case 2 is happening, and not case 1.

I guess maybe the question is how seriously people take ask. I think most people would know to take yahoo answers with a massive pinch of salt, how aware do we believe that people are of a similar precaution with ask me: how aware do we think a casual user is that ask mefi is curated, but not heavily, so "bad" answers can easily slip through.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 11:59 PM on December 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


how aware do we think a casual user is that ask mefi is curated, but not heavily, so "bad" answers can easily slip through.

I think that as Metafilter "locals" we have built up a story about how much better our site is than all the others. For an outsider about the only thing that differentiates AskMe is better grammar and less overt racism.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 12:44 AM on December 2, 2014 [11 favorites]


There are experts who know more, and when it comes to quantitative questions only, those experts need to be granted more weight than non-experts.

On a micro level, I think that the practice that would get us closest to this particular ideal would be for people to try to provide citations/explanations/sources to back up their (factual) answers. That can be tough if the subject is complex or personal. Overall, though, I think it's more useful to provide a way for the OP and future readers to fact check the answers provided than to require the mods to fact check the answers while the question is live (asking the mods to do any fact checking on their own seems impracticable to me altogether).

They may not be dangerous specifically to the question-asker, but given AskMe's prominence on google/etc, I believe there is a moral duty of care to the people who are searching to read, but not asking themselves.

The scope of responsibility that a person takes on when they give advice is only so large, though. Ultimately, the responsibility for the actual decision rests on the person actually making it. So I disagree about the moral duty of care extending so far as to mean that we have to make sure that all (or even just potentially dangerous) information getting to future readers and to the OP is preemptively fact checked by the mods and other readers on their behalf.

I think commenters do have a moral duty to try and not give answers that they know are wrong or that they know could be dangerous to believe, but if advice/answers are given in good faith, then I think it's up to the person actually making the decision for themselves to choose whether to take those answers or leave them. That seems to work smoothly on AskMe right now, imo, though of course mileage varies.

What's the standard for moderation or for deleting comments that engage with other answers? Ime it's actually pretty relaxed when it comes to different people correcting each other (w/r/t facts) within the thread. To be honest, I think it can be too relaxed, in that I get frustrated because (based on previous MeTas in which people have complained about this somewhat) I think that loudmouths who don't necessarily know anything much about the subject often take over threads in a way that means that people with expertise in the area end up just shaking their heads and not weighing in. But maybe the relaxed standards are a good thing because they at least allow for the possibility of within-thread corrections. I frankly think that it's plausible that we've already found a reasonably good equilibrium in terms of how relaxed the standards are w/r/t the answers/commenters being able to engage with each other in order to correct factual errors.

I do think that people could be a little more humble and restrain themselves to posting answers to the questions that they *actually know* the answers to. That's probably a losing battle, however, and not a "policy" that's enforceable by the mods in any case, and to be honest, it's also probably hypocritical of me to even make that criticism, since I've been a no-nothing loudmouth in many threads before!
posted by rue72 at 1:01 AM on December 2, 2014 [3 favorites]


Sorry, I dont understand this at all. It is because of reading food safety threads right here on this site that I got an awareness of
Smell doesn't necessarily tell
Heating up might not save me from keeling over from bad-bad food

I didn't really know these things before (although I never had food poisoning as an adult, i e when in charge of my food choices).

I agree, there's always noise. But how is this more believable than what's actually sound and true? Most of the time, the sensible answers stand out head and shoulders above the rest.
posted by Namlit at 2:19 AM on December 2, 2014 [5 favorites]


I find the whole food safety drama somewhat baffling - why is food safety such a big concern for Metafilter?

Before joining Metafilter the issue was not even on the radar for me, except in the vaguest terms. From reading AskMe, it feels like there's an epidemic of people dying right and left from touching raw chicken or leaving food on the counter overnight. Maybe I have lived a shelterred life, or have just plain been lucky, but I cannot think of a single instance of someone I know suffering something worse than a couple of days of inconvenience from something they ate.

Perhaps this needs as AskMe of its own, but there must be a reason for this huge cultural difference.
posted by Dr Dracator at 2:28 AM on December 2, 2014 [15 favorites]


Dr Dracator, yeah, I feel you on the food safety stuff, I guess you aren't in the US from your profile? I'm not either, and I think it's a cultural difference, though I'm not sure whether it's something America does differently, or something American liberals do differently, or whether it's just a metafilter thing. Wherever it comes from though, there seem to be some big cultural differences both on food and health between what I think is normal and what Metafilter thinks is normal on these issues. As an example, I don't ever understand what's going on in the olive garden threads, though I find them really interesting, in a cultural anthropological way. I also don't get level of 'clinicalisation' that goes on in some posts (e.g I had an askme recently where I asked for help getting up in the morning, and a few people suggested sleep disorders and that sort of medical stuff, which were totally valid as answers, though it would never occur to me to take that question in that direction). So anyway, as it's at the intersection of both these topics, food safety seems just to be one of those things that metafilter feels strongly about. *shrug*
posted by Ned G at 2:57 AM on December 2, 2014 [8 favorites]


Yeah I'm with Miko, on this - better answers are better. Than deleting no answers.

They have a rationale based on persistent urban legend. That is the problem. And it is not limited to food questions--it also slices right through medical and legal questions.

I totes get where you're coming from here, homes, but I feel you're also discounting another important factor: The asker.

Any regular reader of ask.me knows that an Asker can be confronted with tsunami of well-written, gentle, thorough, extremely qualified advice, and they'll Best Answer the throwaway dipshit answer that confirms to the prejudices - or, if no answer like that is forthcoming, they'll Best Answer themselves, delete the question, etc etc etc.

Answers are only a part of what makes an Ask.me thread, and there's so very much we cannot control about the entire experience/interaction. To assume someone would follow a particular answer, because of the answer itself is simply not provable, and I believe to simplistic. Give our keen Askers more (or less) credit than that.

Correcting the record is a far superior response, in my view.
posted by smoke at 2:58 AM on December 2, 2014 [4 favorites]


In regard to the "should I eat it?" questions:

I was wondering about this last nite or thereabouts. I think that there is a subtle overlap in the Venn diagram between people that have suffered food poisoning and those who have not suffered food poisoning as regards yes/no answers. Those that have suffered food poisoning universally advocate fuck no throw that away please and those that haven't are more willing to gamble.

I've never suffered food poisioning and I've eaten In-N-Out burgers that were left in the trunk of a car in the Calfornia Central Valley sun for three days - with no ill effects. So I always say, "sure, eat it".

But as to the phrasing of the post: "there is objective fact that matters...". Sure, 2+2 does not equal 2 but many of the answers are phrased as I would or I would not eat it so I think you are applying objective criteria in a subjective matter.
posted by vapidave at 3:39 AM on December 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


I've eaten In-N-Out burgers that were left in the trunk of a car in the Calfornia Central Valley sun for three days - with no ill effects

said a disembodied voice from the beyond
posted by Namlit at 3:43 AM on December 2, 2014 [26 favorites]


The problem is when that risk assessment is being skewed by wrong-but-believable information

yea, i have a lot of sympathy for and agree with this one. this is definitely one of my gripes.

there exist a certain category of questions where it's like a safety question or a "will this burn my house down?" sort of thing where there is such a thing as an objectively wrong answer, and arguing over whether that's the case is really tiresome and pedantic.

this is compounded by the fact that you're not really allowed to reply to other people, and that plenty of "you are wrong and this is why" type of responses to what are honestly shitposts in those kind of threads get deleted.

so it's one thing to say yea, more answers are a solution to bad answers... but then if the further answers don't toe the line enough of not "arguing among posters" or whatever then those can get deleted while the shitty factually incorrect post stands.

i'm fine with not deleting those band answers that often as it is now, but i think that maybe a little bit of loosening of the reigns on replying to another non-op post in an ask should be ok if you have something to add, or a debunking that would be helpful to the OP and isn't just cockjousting.

i've seen shockingly bad answers in objective-solution threads about electrical stuff(when it's not of the will-this-burn-my-house-down variety), or computers, or whatever and i'm like "eh whatever just drop the right answer or something in the right direction and move on", but it really bugs me on some of the medical or legal questions or food stuff like what you described.
posted by emptythought at 3:48 AM on December 2, 2014 [5 favorites]


I think vapidave's point about subjective-objective is valid, as is Cortex's early comment about the "aspect of palm reading."
Right or wrong in food safety threads could only be verified by actual testing (or an experiment). So, most of the time, the community is invited to speculate about the hypothetical outcome of such an experiment. You can talk about the odds in any number of ways, including massively uninformed ones, and that's where it ends (or for fffm, starts).

I think the best thing to carry away from this discussion is to do as Cortex says, if there's something allowed to stand that really is potentially-deadly-wrong, and flagging didn't do the trick (and hey, how often doesn't flagging do the trick!), use the contact form.

And as I suggested earlier, some objectively right answers, like "smell actually doesn't tell you whether some food is safe to eat" and "heating up an old stew doesn't kill the toxins" have actually had a solid representation here over many years, for people to actually search and link to, and to correct wrong answers with references in-thread, and whatnot, so there's no true reason to get worked up about that residue of wrongness that'll perhaps show itself nevertheless in these threads.

Now whether it's a "cultural" thing...rest assured that non-US parts of the world are inhabited with some overly germ-fearing people just as the rest of the world. On the other hand, food poisoning experienced in Greece is just as unpleasant as in New Jersey, no matter whether one was all lay-backety about it in anticipation or not.
posted by Namlit at 3:59 AM on December 2, 2014


This feels like one of those things that there isn't a right answer to. Or at least, the right answer is extrinsic to the site, which is "nobody should be making life or death decisions (or even poop-for-days decisions) based on the advice of strangers on the Internet". And I think this is further complicated by the fact that people who are asking the Internet are often seeking permission rather than advice. You can see this when people ask for advice on their incredibly unwise stringed instrument-related romantic gesture plans, and select the one "go for it!" in a crowd of "holy God, no!" answers as best answer.

So... to an extent, it feels to me like if someone is intent on eating something, they are going to eat it. If they are persuadable, or genuinely unsure, then the plurality of "this is unwise" or "this is likely to be a bad experience at best" answers will probably be persuasive.

(A good example seems to me to be questions like "should I get a gun to defend my family"? One of the common, good-sense answers to that is "a gun may make you feel more secure, but statistically it is more likely to be the cause of injury to a member of your family than it is to be the tool by which a home invasion is successfully repelled, although of course that risk can be minimised with good firearms practice". That answer almost always reveals whether the question is actually "should I get a gun to defend my family?" or "can I engineer a situation where I tell people why I, and they, should get a gun?")

In the specific case of food safety, I get the argument, fffm. It's very hard to say with absolute confidence "eating this is going to kill you" - except in unambiguous "I found this oyster buried in a plantpot that has not been touched for six months" situations - because food and people are subject to multiple factors. However, some decision are clearly more risky than others, and basic rules - like the inaccuracy of the smell test, like the non-total efficacy of cooking bad meat and so on - can be stated confidently as real things that should factor into an informed decision.

With that in mind, would a useful response be to put a "food safety 101" statement in your profile, like Army of Kittens' (I think) Trans 101 statement, and link people to it when they ask a "should I eat this" question? I guess the downside of that is that people who are not members could see the question but not the profile page - so maybe mirror it on an external web page?

Basically, it's very hard to avoid bad advice being given on the Internet - even if the mods aggressively policed bad advice on AskMe, their knowledge is not necessarily accurate. But a mix of giving good context-specific advice, creating an easy route to FAQ-level good advice that can be reduplicated without effort and both flagging and contacting mods about egregiously bad advice is probably the best-fit response.
posted by running order squabble fest at 4:16 AM on December 2, 2014


"said a disembodied voice from the beyond"

Boo! The lettuce is there only to defend the meat and cheese on the right - which admittedly do seem to be cowering from the porcupine of bacon and cheese and fries and the agressive gravy on the left.

The tomato is giving it a hide in the back.
posted by vapidave at 4:25 AM on December 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


then there is the idiotic idea that if you reheat food it will "kill bacteria."....

....In some cases, this IS true - if you heat a fruit past a certain point and hold it at that point for ten minutes, it will kill the botulism bacillus. That's not "opinion" or an "idiotic idea", that is the science behind why canning food works.

Of course, there are other bacteria aside from botulism, and in the specific example cited above (the ravioli), I wouldn't trust it personally. Or, maybe I'd call the manufacturer and ask them for advice rather than going to AskMe. So it is a fair point to say that reheating food wouldn't necessarily "kill bacteria" in this specific instance.

But my point is that an across-the-board dismissal of "reheating food to kill bacteria is a fiction" is itself false, but it is a notion that has its adherants, just as the "reheating food to kill bacteria" idea is a notion that has its own adherants. So therefore, maybe the "clearly this isn't a fact and you should delete it" claims aren't always right themselves either.

Also, consider: for the vast majority of the time that AskMe has been a thing, one of the moderators was a librarian - a librarian who, may I add, is still a member of the site. And is therefore capable of actually retrieving the actual science behind a specific food-contamination issue if no one else is coming forward with it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:53 AM on December 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


this is compounded by the fact that you're not really allowed to reply to other people, and that plenty of "you are wrong and this is why" type of responses to what are honestly shitposts in those kind of threads get deleted.

so it's one thing to say yea, more answers are a solution to bad answers... but then if the further answers don't toe the line enough of not "arguing among posters" or whatever then those can get deleted while the shitty factually incorrect post stands.


This is not really a great characterization of how we delete things in Ask Metafilter. We ask that people not debate or fight with each other so that we don't have threads full of people arguing back and forth. If someone says something you believe is factually incorrect or bad advice, just offer your better answer. Don't say something like, "hey OtherAnswerer, that's a dumb answer, the actual correct answer is blahblah," just say, "hey, OP, I wouldn't suggest [bad advice] because of the danger of XYZ; instead, the wise thing to do is blahblah."
posted by taz (staff) at 4:55 AM on December 2, 2014 [7 favorites]


I'm not a mod, but moving the responsibility of discerning the right answer from the asker to the mods is something that should be avoided because of potential moral if not legal consequences. Deleting the wrong answers is a step in this direction.
posted by hat_eater at 5:05 AM on December 2, 2014 [4 favorites]


I guess the other way of seeing it is that AskMe essentially functions as a game, in which commenters compete for "best answers" and favourites and askers get the little dopamine hits that result from seeing their questions on the Green and getting responses to them. Introducing objective measures of right and wrong into this environment almost seems like a category error. Especially with food safety questions, which are, as cortex notes above, "palm-reading" exercises more than anything. None of us can know the exact toxin or pathogen content of the particular food item being discussed, and (barring lab testing) neither can the asker, except in a "You will Know When You Get There" kind of way.
posted by Sonny Jim at 5:57 AM on December 2, 2014


The policy about arguing with/disagreeing with other comments is really poorly delineated. Not letting people directly address bad or dangerous advice is a terrible policy but for a while it was the stated policy--we were just supposed to answer without addressing other answers or something. So I'm glad to see the shift is back to being more reasonable.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 6:05 AM on December 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


Now I can't find the metatalk thread about it but I swear it was there. People were like "wait we can't disagree" and the mods were like "no, that's always been policy, don't argue" and people were like "not even politely?!" and the mods were like "nope" and everyone was mad confused.

Anyone know what I'm talking about?
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 6:16 AM on December 2, 2014


Yeah, I was just typing a request for a link about what you are referring to. In my memory we haven't had any shift or change of policy.
posted by taz (staff) at 6:18 AM on December 2, 2014


Maybe I have lived a sheltered life, or have just plain been lucky, but I cannot think of a single instance of someone I know suffering something worse than a couple of days of inconvenience from something they ate.

Little House on the Prairie almost killed me once.

So I had forgotten some ham on the counter and it had sat out for two days. I vaguely remembered that in LHotP they actually hung ham in barns for the whole winter and carved bits off. 'Huh!' said the incredibly stupid me, 'Plainly this means that ham cannot go bad!' so I ate it.

I spent the next four days wishing for the sweet embrace of death. I ended up having to get IV fluids because I had gotten so dehydrated. Food poisoning is no joke, but unfortunately people can come up with their own weird and misguided justifications for eating things that should be thrown away with extreme prejudice.
posted by winna at 6:21 AM on December 2, 2014 [20 favorites]


I was quite sassy about what seemed to be a pretty big change, and protested vociferously at the time, but I find I can no longer search my comment history. What is the deal with that?
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 6:22 AM on December 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


Internet fraud squad, I suspect you are referring to these threads, but I don't think they said quite what you thought they said
posted by Cannon Fodder at 6:24 AM on December 2, 2014


A better approach would be for fffm, as an apparent expert on food safety, to draft an answer that is so scintillatingly right that it can be linked to forever

The sticking point with this particular question is that for people who are really into food safety, there is ever only one scintillatingly right answer: "When in doubt, throw it out." It's not really possible for them to be satisfied with any other answers. So I was thinking about scenarios where "should I eat it" questions immediately get linked to the answer "When in doubt, throw it out" - even with a lot of scientific language and links to statistical tables - and if we arrive at that point, I sort of wonder then why we both even allowing the question. I don't think this is a serious problem and I don't think it's resulting in widespread death from food poisoning, but at the same time, I wouldn't be sad if these questions were just not allowed on AskMe. They are basically opinion/Chatfilter/survey questions, yet some people will continue to read them as objective, scientific questions, and for those people there is only one right answer ("if there is any doubt about safety at all, don't eat it") and a very low level of tolerance for other kinds of answers. These are predictable problems. If these questions just went away I don't think they'd be worse off.

At the same time, I can see something good coming from people using AskMe to answer this, because they will pretty much always at least hear a cautionary voice here, which I wouldn't guarantee in life if they just asked, say, their roommates.
posted by Miko at 6:24 AM on December 2, 2014 [3 favorites]


Plus people with dependents, no paid sick days, etc. can have their finances terribly impacted by a few days of multi-orifice expelliarmus.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 6:25 AM on December 2, 2014 [4 favorites]


YMGSD&V&HTGTTERB=you might get severe diarrhea and vomiting and have to go to the ER but....

YMDB=You might die but....
posted by discopolo at 6:30 AM on December 2, 2014


Thanks, Cannon Fodder.

This is the thread in question. Specifically, you're not supposed to answer "just" to argue with someone else's answer, which I think is silly as a policy and didn't really buy as actual metafilter policy, anyway.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 6:33 AM on December 2, 2014


Whenever someone says, "Oh just eat it, it's fine," I imagine a cranky grandpa in overalls complaining about how everyone today is a weakling for even asking and that he and his pals used to fry dead rats for dinner in the junkyard for food back in his day and he's fit as a fiddle today.
posted by discopolo at 6:34 AM on December 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


Specifically, you're not supposed to answer "just" to argue with someone else's answer, which I think is silly as a policy and didn't really buy as actual metafilter policy, anyway.

That's not a great reading of the moderator comments in that thread. Specifically, Jessamyn delineated things quite clearly in this comment:

1. Showing up in a "Explain this thing to me about jesus's miracles" with a "Jesus wasn't the son of god so none of this ever happened" is not going to be okay. It's generally understood that this is asking about what the bible and its interpretations say.
2. Showing up in the "How do I complain to CVS about the mercury levels in this homeopathic solution?" thread to say "There's actually no mercury in it because of how homeopathy works, so you don't need to complain" is fine. Showing up to say "Homeopathy is bullshit" is not fine, even though it's true.
3. Showing up in the "Help me find a good palm reader for my baby shower" thread to say "Palm reading is bullshit" is not okay" Asking "What sort of thing are you looking for in a 'good' palm reader since they're not really able to tell the future?" is okay.


I don't see anything there that represents any significant changes from how AskMe has been or currently is being moderated, nor anything particularly difficult to handle as an answerer. It is easy to find examples of answers that probably should have been deleted, and I'm sure there have been deletions that shouldn't have happened, but policy-wise I'm not seeing anything different or controversial.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:46 AM on December 2, 2014 [3 favorites]


Ah, I reread it and see my mistake. The mods actually never said that, but a bunch of other people did. Cortex eloquently refuted it. Thanks for the help in clarifying. Uh, anyway, back to this thread, I think it's better to clarify in thread rather than deleting.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 6:56 AM on December 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


...if you heat a fruit past a certain point and hold it at that point for ten minutes, it will kill the botulism bacillus. That's not "opinion" or an "idiotic idea", that is the science behind why canning food works.

But if you do that to food that's already had botulism bacteria working in it for a while, the heating will not destroy the botulism toxin already produced. That's the science behind throwing out swollen cans.

Be that as it may: the mods should clearly delete answers promoting the destruction of fully functional microwave ovens just because of a bit of arcing in charred food spatter.

If a disgustingly filthy microwave oven spat and sparked before being cleaned out, and no longer spits and sparks after, and still heats a test cup of water at full speed: it is objectively true that the sparking was caused by electric currents induced in conductive food char which is now gone and that the now-clean oven is no more hazardous than any other of similar make and age. ZOMG IT WILL BURN DOWN YOUR HOUSE is the kind of pernicious nonsense I'd expect from Yahoo Answers, not AskMe.
posted by flabdablet at 6:59 AM on December 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


Are you (OP) an expert? If so, then you can post your rebuttal to bad advice with your credentials. If you're not an expert, why should we believe you when you say it's bad advice?
posted by Obscure Reference at 7:02 AM on December 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


Hrm, the science behind throwing out swollen cans is that they might mess up your shirt, or knock a hole into your forehead when exploding
posted by Namlit at 7:04 AM on December 2, 2014


Can I assume that a suggestion about mixing bleach and ammonia in response to a question about house-cleaning would be deleted and not just depend upon someone reading a refutation a few comments down?
posted by DanSachs at 7:09 AM on December 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


5 days since Thanksgiving (here in the good old US of A)...how many of you still have turkey in the fridge?
posted by HuronBob at 7:12 AM on December 2, 2014


Can I assume that a suggestion about mixing bleach and ammonia in response to a question about house-cleaning would be deleted and not just depend upon someone reading a refutation a few comments down?

Why? I'm sure most Askers read all the answers to a question before deciding on their course of action, as would people from the future coming across it. So they'll get to see all the people saying "Nooooo!" and realise that suggestion is wrong. It's not like people get to one answer and think "That's it! I don't need to read any more words, where are my bottles of bleach and ammonia and my cocktail shaker?"

And if they do, well, Darwin
posted by billiebee at 7:22 AM on December 2, 2014 [3 favorites]


I just finished eating two slices of cheese pizza that got left in the box on the counter for two days. I don't care what any food expert says, cold pizza has a counter life of 3 days and frig pizza, if it can last that long without being scarfed, has a 5 day life.

To me, these types of questions and answers are very dependent on the asker's own risk reward matrix and on the answerer's. I think that the folks who answer should just be up front with their credentials and risk tolerance. "I don't know much about food safety, but I have eaten 3 day old In and Out burgers, so I would eat that."

I also think that a lot of the eat or not eat decision is ultimately based on wealth and convenience. If you can afford to throw out $10 worth of food or can easily find a substitute, you give it the old heave ho. If not, you decide if saving the money is worth the risk of shitting it out.
posted by 724A at 7:39 AM on December 2, 2014 [3 favorites]


And if they do, well, Darwin

Yeah you cannot dar-win: he's dead, so, proof.

No, I would very much hope that inevitably super-dangerous answers are getting the mod axe in their pre-darwinistic form.
posted by Namlit at 7:46 AM on December 2, 2014


be aware of safety, please.

I'm afraid that won't be possible.
posted by Greg Nog at 8:09 AM on December 2, 2014 [5 favorites]


Can I assume that a suggestion about mixing bleach and ammonia

This is a great opportunity to answer a whole class of possible AskMe questions. "Should I mix bleach and-"

No.
posted by Jpfed at 8:13 AM on December 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


Can I assume that a suggestion about mixing bleach and ammonia in response to a question about house-cleaning would be deleted

In the past when this has come up it's because someone was posting "Oh yeah try this sure-fire solution of bleach and ammonia" for lulz and we deleted it because wtf. Realistically this is a thing the mods would deal with if and when it came up.
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 9:19 AM on December 2, 2014


"Should I mix bleach and-"

my delicate white fabrics?

I actually don't know that I've owned a delicate white anything in my while life.
posted by SpacemanStix at 9:24 AM on December 2, 2014


I believe the OP is a chef and is therefore more of an expert on food safety than I am, because I have never been trained in food preparation or food safety and I assume he has since he is a chef.

This begs an interesting question - how do we identify and come to know experts here on Metafilter? I always liked the Interest Areas list but we can't see other people's, only our own (for good reasons). Personally, I identify people like fffm as an expert on food because I've seen his answers on food and they're well-reasoned and he's mentioned his credentials, and I remember them. We have the "scientist" and "librarian" userscripts that people can install using GreaseMonkey to identify ... experts? People who have been marked as colleagues on two specific users' accounts, anyhow, which is... sort of like being marked as an expert, but it lacks some quality control features. The "occupation" field in profiles can be helpful in some cases. But I actually think that the major way people identify experts here on Metafilter is by using Metafilter and getting to know people over time. I know a lot of the "greats" for relationship answers in Ask, for example, because that's where I spend a lot of time, and I've come to trust specific users because they usually have good advice in my point of view. I often add those people as "contacts" and viewing people's contacts lists is another way to get an idea of who has "good" answers here. I also think that "favorites" are a way that some people "mark" or identify experts, particularly if specific users garner lots of favorites on particular topics over time. It's interesting, though - "good" and "favorited" does not always mean "correct."

Anyhow, this is a really interesting question and problem and I'm glad to see us discussing it here on Metafilter. Ultimately, I think it's fine to allow some wrong answers to stand, particularly when other users refute those answers with evidence - that's a great way to aid people who are trying to judge the quality of any given comment here. Instead of the mods deleting comments, showing up in threads and giving evidence-based advice - and self-identifying one's expertise - is probably a stronger way to aid decision-making and information literacy for all readers.
posted by sockermom at 9:36 AM on December 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


This is one of the most ridiclous MeTas ever posted.

It asks for the impossible, pretends it's about all questions while discussing only a specific subset and then doubles down on irrationality.

Just stop reading AskMe's about food, you'll enjoy life more.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:37 AM on December 2, 2014 [5 favorites]


Can I assume that a suggestion about mixing bleach and ammonia in response to a question about house-cleaning would be deleted and not just depend upon someone reading a refutation a few comments down?

This is exactly the point I have been trying to make, yes.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:46 AM on December 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


Brandon, I have been discussing a specific subset because that is where my expertise lies. The comment above regarding other experts--particularly medical experts--having left the site because of this issue should make it clear that this is not merely about food. I am pretending nothing. If you disagree, fine, but you are incorrect on all your points.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:53 AM on December 2, 2014


There are experts who know more, and when it comes to quantitative questions only, those experts need to be granted more weight than non-experts.

Assuming you're an expert on food safety: What percentage of people who eat unrefrigerated-but-should've-been-refrigerated food end up affected by it? I'm no expert, so all I have to go on is anecdotes of people eating food left out for over 2 hours, or not heated to recommended temps: most of the time, nothing happened to them. Exactly how concerned should I be when I eat unrefrigerated-but-should've-been-refrigerated food?
posted by 23skidoo at 9:56 AM on December 2, 2014


People are indeed wrong on the internet sometimes, yep.

Ain't no deletion policy that will fix this. Just add your own knowledge if you're so moved.

That's kinda the whole premise of Ask Metafilter.
posted by desuetude at 10:00 AM on December 2, 2014 [9 favorites]


CDC: "CDC estimates that each year roughly 1 in 6 Americans (or 48 million people) get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die of foodborne diseases."

I am drilling down to see if I can find something as granular as unrefrigerated food at home.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:18 AM on December 2, 2014


This is the best I can find so far: "From 2009-2010, among the outbreaks with a known single setting where food was consumed, 48% were caused by food consumed in a restaurant or deli and 21% by food consumed in a private home."

This appends 766 to those statistics, which is around 3% of all outbreaks. Someone who actually gets statistics can extrapolate numbers from there, I guess.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:35 AM on December 2, 2014


In theory, I absolutely agree that objectively wrong answers should be deleted. Sometimes, it makes me ridiculous upset when they are not. I can think of one particular example where someone said something objectively wrong, I explained how it actually works and linked to proof, and the same person continued to post the same wrong answer in the thread. It made me unreasonably angry then, and I am still unreasonably angry thinking about it months later.

However, I can't see how a "delete wrong answers" policy would work practically. Sometimes it's clear-cut that someone is wrong, sure, and in those cases it's obvious to everyone and it gets drowned out in the thread, and it doesn't really matter if it gets deleted. But, in other instances, someone may be objectively wrong but only the expert (doctor, lawyer, person with specialist training in food safety, person with specialist training in anything) knows that they are wrong. Does the mod evaluate the proof the expert posts to determine if they are correct? If they can't figure it out, do they then have to evaluate the so-called-expert's credentials to determine if they are enough of an expert to rely on their word? I just can't see that kind of policy working, though again, I reallyreallyreally wish that it was possible.
posted by insectosaurus at 11:13 AM on December 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


FFF, I think you're misunderstanding what AskMetafilter is. I know that is saying a lot, because you are a very active and visible participant on all of the Metafilter sites (at least the ones I frequent).

AskMetafilter isn't Wikipedia. It isn't authoritative. It doesn't aspire to being Wikipedia. There are so many indications of this. Look at the quaint categories that are available for questions, or the hopelessly disorganized way tags are used. Look at the endless variations of the same question that get answered. Look at the lack of post hoc categorization, despite the wealth of information that we all know is in here, just waiting to be crunched and shuffled and dealt out as a compendium of wisdom and knowledge.

But it doesn't work that way. AskMe isn't the PDR and it's not even your local library's reference desk.

AskMe, like all of Metafilter, is a conversation. It's a dialog among people who sorta kinda know each other more or less. It's a dialog among people who have created some shared standards and values and mores. It's a dialog among people who sometimes have shockingly deep obscure expertise. It's a dialog among people who often (but not always) have a lot of common sense and who are generously willing to share their perspective when the asker mostly just needs some perspective that is not their own. It is a dialog among people who are willing to put themselves and their ideas out there and are willing to learn from other MeFites who do the same.

Lots of people write advice columns, and lots of people send questions to those advice columnists. But I think people who type their relationship questions into Metafilter get better answers precisely because they get multiple answers, and because they see responses that build on previous responses in progressive or corrective ways. Something is born out of that back and forth that isn't possible from a single answer, regardless of how authoritative it is.

Now one can argue that in certain fact based areas it's different. There's just a right answer, end of story. Or one can argue than a question with legal implications can only get a valid answer in the context of a well-defined client-lawyer relationship. But I'd disagree with that. No one stops you from asking a question of your non-lawyer friends at a party, and no one should stop you here. You're just asking some members of your community their perspective.

I have the image of of three people standing in living room at a party. One says, "I found some old hard cider in my basement. I wonder if it's still good to drink." The next person says, "Huh, I wonder. What's it smell like?" Then the third person reacts by pointing at the second person and saying, "Out! Now! Leave the room! That was the WRONG ANSWER!" The world just doesn't work that way, and Metafilter is part of the world.

I truly cannot imagine someone who would look at a food safety question on Metafilter, scroll down to the 7th answer, read that that answer (which happens to say "go for it"), not read any other answers, and then do something that is harmful to themselves. Maybe if MeFi had upvoting that affected the order in which comments were displayed, or which comments were visible. But it doesn't have upvoting like that. Because it is a conversation.

If you try to make it something it's not, you will be unhappy. Luckily most of the people who asks questions get this, and so the site has been very valuable to very many people.
posted by alms at 11:46 AM on December 2, 2014 [12 favorites]


I am not misunderstand what AskMe is at all.

I am suggesting that, as mentioned above, we have a blinkered view as to who is reading the site and the information they are walking away with. And that when we present information that supports what someone already believes, that is actively dangerous for far more than the few thousand people who are regularly active on the site.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:01 PM on December 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm asking a genuine question here - I know X amount of people get sick each year from eating things they shouldn't, but has anyone any knowledge of someone getting sick after following the "should I eat this?" advice in AskMe? There does seem to be a lot of these questions (which I also found to be a strange cultural thing here) and I'm just wondering if anyone has ever come back to say "I ate it and now all my orifices hate me".
posted by billiebee at 12:01 PM on December 2, 2014


...if you heat a fruit past a certain point and hold it at that point for ten minutes, it will kill the botulism bacillus. That's not "opinion" or an "idiotic idea", that is the science behind why canning food works.

But if you do that to food that's already had botulism bacteria working in it for a while, the heating will not destroy the botulism toxin already produced. That's the science behind throwing out swollen cans. ...

Actually, botulinum toxin is readily degraded by heat.

From the CDC:
Botulism: Control Measures Overview for Clinicians
...
Despite its extreme potency, botulinum toxin is easily destroyed. Heating to an internal temperature of 85°C for at least 5 minutes will decontaminate affected food or drink.
It's the spores that are heat resistant.
posted by jamjam at 12:03 PM on December 2, 2014 [7 favorites]


I love it when knowledge comes in and says "actually everyone is partly right depending".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:07 PM on December 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


I love it when we go all boldface and linkylink.

Back to salvaging pizza from the pile of boxes in my car trunk.
posted by Namlit at 12:16 PM on December 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


also:

It's the spores that are heat resistant.
posted by jamjam?

eponydon'tdothat
posted by Namlit at 12:17 PM on December 2, 2014 [3 favorites]


I demand the deletion of all "what should I do with my life" answers that aren't "Join the Coast Guard and rescue people for a living."
posted by michaelh at 12:35 PM on December 2, 2014 [14 favorites]


So, in a recent AskMe thread, someone was asking about a particular alternative medical cure and another user said that this cure was possibly effective but unproven and suggested that, instead of that cure, they try something medically proven to be effective like acupuncture.

I responded, pointing out as politely as I could that acupuncture is dangerous, expensive, and not medically proven to be effective at treating any condition. I did not add anything on the topic of the original question, because I didn't know anything about the particular alternative medicine they were asking about.

My answer was deleted. Which I understand, because I wasn't answering the question. But it brings up the point that, if someone offers dangerous advice as a side note in an answer, there seems to be absolutely no way within the guidelines to mitigate the risk that causes.
posted by 256 at 1:00 PM on December 2, 2014 [16 favorites]


I email the mods when that happens, 256, explaining why I flagged the bad comment.
posted by winna at 1:04 PM on December 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


I used the contact form and got an explanation of why my comment was deleted, which I understood. It also seemed that deleting the original bad advice was off the table though because it was in a comment that was informative to the question in other ways. I was essentially left with the feeling that there was no acceptable way to rectify the situation other than to leave the advice in favour of acupuncture in place and uncontested.
posted by 256 at 1:07 PM on December 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


My answer was deleted. Which I understand, because I wasn't answering the question. But it brings up the point that, if someone offers dangerous advice as a side note in an answer, there seems to be absolutely no way within the guidelines to mitigate the risk that causes.

Except that... there is no evidence that acupuncture is dangerous!
posted by latkes at 1:23 PM on December 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


Yeah, before starting to italicise the word acupuncture for omg-really-emphasis, perhaps just skip over to Wikipedia and read that substantial article? It's a bit more complicated than "proven to be effective" "not proven to be effective" and/or "dangerous."
posted by Namlit at 1:29 PM on December 2, 2014




Also, Namlit, reading the "Effectiveness" and "Safety" sections on the wikipedia article only seem to confirm that it is generally shown to be a placebo with far higher chances of complications than, say, a sugar pill.

But that is really neither here nor there, and I regret posting my immediately previous comment with the links because it is not helpful to get into a debate about acupuncture here. Whether I am right or wrong about acupuncture though, it may have been helpful to get into a short debate about it in the original question, but that was rendered impossible by the guidelines.
posted by 256 at 1:37 PM on December 2, 2014


You should have suggested reiki as an alternative!

I'll show myself out.
posted by prize bull octorok at 1:43 PM on December 2, 2014 [4 favorites]


I am suggesting that, as mentioned above, we have a blinkered view as to who is reading the site and the information they are walking away with. And that when we present information that supports what someone already believes, that is actively dangerous for far more than the few thousand people who are regularly active on the site.

I don't know that we have a "blinkered view." We know that complete buffoons, the extremely vulnerable, etc., can read the site. We also know they can walk away with misinformation. I fully assume that a lot of people walk away with ideas that are really bad. In that way, MetaFilter is like the entire rest of the internet. If in doubt, start typing into your Google search box "Is it safe to eat..,." "is it safe to eat food that...," "is it safe to eat warm....," "is it safe to eat old...," "is it safe to eat spoiled....," "is it safe to eat rotten...," and "what happens if I eat..." and keep your eyes on the autocomplete list.

You'll find that the queries we get here would, if not posted here, likely end up somewhere else on the internet. At least here, I can be certain that someone will provide information and caution. In this respect, AskMetaFilter, including wrong answers, is better than most other places people will end up. This is the value of MetaFilter - to give people a place to go where the likelihood of finding a good answer is far higher than the likelihood elsewhere online.

You'll also find that these questions are asked elsewhere in similar ways, and sometimes answered in similar ways. So I think we're better than average, but we're not creating an atmosphere of exceptional harm. We're not worsening conditions in the world and there is some argument that the discussion here improves them.
posted by Miko at 1:48 PM on December 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


I am suggesting that, as mentioned above, we have a blinkered view as to who is reading the site and the information they are walking away with.

I haven't seen evidence of this. My perception of AskMe, as I've described it above, is based on the feedback that OPs provide in their questions. They seem to get it.

This might just be confirmation basis. After all, people who die from food poisoning can't come back and mark their threads "Resolved". But I don't think so.
posted by alms at 1:50 PM on December 2, 2014


Let's stipulate, for the sake of argument, that there are legions of mouth breathers out there avidly reading the green, waiting to pounce on the merest crumb of info which supports their previously held, wrong-headed and foolish opinions, and then, after obtaining what they considered to be askme's blessing, to pull whatever fool stunt they're inclined to do, and that we, as wise denizens of the Internet, have a moral duty to save these precious lambs from the cliffs they're throwing themselves at.

How would that work, actually? What would that actually look like, this purgation of wrongness?

Because I don't think Matt can just install a klaxon that will go off in mod HQ when someone is Wrong On The Internet.

Instead, what I think will happen is that you will get self-proclaimed experts declaring that comment X is factually wrong and dangerous, sometimes accompanying their assertion with links, often not, and then you'll get insulted Commenters X countering that that's like, just, their opinion, man, and including their own huff-fueled link barrage, after which the mods will have to come in and play some kind of combo of Solomon and Mills Lane, picking out whose facts count as facts and whose facts don't, on the basis of their own expertise in....well, what, exactly?

Or in other words, see the comments immediately above: some people think acupuncture is meritless bunk, some people think it can produce powerful placebo effects, some think it's a useful medical technique, all of these people can produce links and studies to back up their claims.

It would be nice, if we could reliably prevent people from being wrong on the Internet. We can't. All we can do is pile on and hope the mouth breathers are also crowd-followers, in this best of all possible worlds.
posted by Diablevert at 2:00 PM on December 2, 2014 [4 favorites]


It is the giving of advice that is actually completely wrong, that skews the risk assessment, and can make people ill or dead because they haven't actually been given accurate data for assessing risk.

Any proposed solution to this would see mods doing a lot more work to research Correct Things when they have a reduced staffing capability.
posted by corb at 2:11 PM on December 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


To be clear, I don't think that the mods should be the arbiters of correct vs. incorrect answers, and I do like the current system of replying to bad answers with better sourced good answers. It is the specific case of answers that provide harmful information outside of the scope of the question that I'm bringing up, as a sort of adjunct to fffm's original issue.

Imagine this question:

Q. Is it safe to feed the rest of my hamburger helper to the cat?

A1. Yes, your cat can safely ingest anything you can safely ingest.
A2. The advice given by A1 is dangerous. I don't know about hamburger helper, but its definitely not safe to give your cat, for example, acetaminophen in any dosage.


As I understand it, under the current guidelines, A2 would be deleted, but A1 would be allowed to stand.
posted by 256 at 2:21 PM on December 2, 2014


There are a lot of people who read AskMe. Maybe don't assume you're the only one who can refute the Bad Information. Maybe wait for someone to come along who can not only refute it but also knows about hamburger helper. Are there links to any questions where dangerous information was allowed to stand unchecked?
posted by billiebee at 2:38 PM on December 2, 2014


I see what you're saying, 256, but I feel like what you're suggesting is that there ought to be "dangerousness exception" to the "no arguing with the other commenters" rule. But the central problem with that is the same as the more broad idea of "dangerous/wrong comments should be deleted" --- you're still relying on the mods to determine in each case whether the first comment meets the criteria of "dangerous and wrong" and thus permit the correction to stand. But how can they possibly do that, given that the green covers every topic under the sun?

In addition, even in the more narrow case, to me it seems like this sequence would happen a heck of a lot: comment A makes an assertion, comment B disputes the assertion, because dangerous, comments C, D, E, and F chime in to support/refute assertion, and now the thread is full of arguments about comment A, instead of answers to OP's question.
posted by Diablevert at 2:38 PM on December 2, 2014


Now that the "heating does not destroy botulinum toxin" thing has been debunked (as I too have pointed out in AskMe), can anyone point out any food toxins or pathogens that are not inactivated by say, brief exposure to boiling temperatures? Honest question - a quick search only found shiga toxin from E. coli that resists pasteurization but is killed by boiling.
posted by exogenous at 2:48 PM on December 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


The "I'm writing a novel..." of disputing incorrect answers is "I agree with [correct answer]. In addition, [wrong answer] is wrong because..."

Also, this suggestion is a non-starter on a number of levels:
1. There is no such thing as unassailable correctness.
2. Even if there were, the mods could not know it for all questions (if they did, we wouldn't need AskMe, just AskTaz).
3. And even if they did, they wouldn't have time to weed through all AskMe answers to assess them.
posted by Rock Steady at 2:53 PM on December 2, 2014 [6 favorites]


"Ask your vet if Hamburger Helper is right for your cat! There are definitely people foods and medicines (like acetaminophen) that are harmful to cats."
posted by prize bull octorok at 3:22 PM on December 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


I think it's been well established that askme is not the place people necessarily turn to for 'expert' advice. they are turning to 'the hivemind'. there is a distinction, and in my experience on ask that distinction seems pretty clear.
Experts tend to identify themselves as such, so in that regard, the OP has the option of deciding whether to give that answer more weight.
It took me a while to get over giving an answer in my own area of expertise, expecting it to be recognized as the best answer, only to have the OP choose another option, but, as in life, you can't save people from themselves. flag and move on.
the mods do a damn good job of doing the things they are required to do, policing askme in this way seems unnecessary.
posted by OHenryPacey at 3:23 PM on December 2, 2014


... can anyone point out any food toxins or pathogens that are not inactivated by say, brief exposure to boiling temperatures? Honest question - a quick search only found shiga toxin from E. coli that resists pasteurization but is killed by boiling.

Algal toxins have that reputation:
Most of the algal toxins associated with seafood poisoning are heat stable and are not inactivated by cooking. It is also not possible to visually distinguish toxic from non-toxic fish and shellfish. Many countries rely on biotoxin monitoring programmes to protect public health and close harvesting areas when toxic algal blooms or toxic shellfish are detected. In non-industrialized countries, particularly in rural areas, monitoring for harmful algal blooms does not routinely occur and death due to "red tide toxins" commonly occurs.
...
The toxic compounds are water-soluble and heat stable. A 5-minute cook will reduce toxicity by only 30% and increasing this to 20 min. will only effect a 40% denaturation (Scoging, 1998).
(Scoging, 1998) might address the issue of boiling more directly, but I wasn't able to find my way through the labyrinth to that part of any such publication.
posted by jamjam at 4:18 PM on December 2, 2014 [3 favorites]


I am not misunderstand what AskMe is at all.

You're simply asking for the site to function in a way that it hasn't before, despite various experts leaving in a huff because their scared cow wasn't being tended in the way they wanted. You can't point to anything bad that has occurred because someone may have posted incorrect information about food, you can only speculate about something that could possibly, maybe happen.

Which, to be clear, is your right. But for someone insisting on the importance of facts and experts, you're not making a lick of sense.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:22 PM on December 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


Brandon Blatcher: "This is one of the most ridiclous MeTas ever posted.

It asks for the impossible, pretends it's about all questions while discussing only a specific subset and then doubles down on irrationality.

Just stop reading AskMe's about food, you'll enjoy life more.
"

This is a pretty uncharitable response, Brandon. FFFM is a long-time user who seems to have made a request in good faith about an issue he feels is important. I don't really agree with him or think the idea is workable, but I think we could hear him out, and disagree politely, if need be.

And, "one of the most ridiculous MeTas ever posted," is an INCREDIBLY high bar.
posted by Chrysostom at 4:25 PM on December 2, 2014 [13 favorites]


DanSachs: "Can I assume that a suggestion about mixing bleach and ammonia in response to a question about house-cleaning would be deleted and not just depend upon someone reading a refutation a few comments down?"

The fear that readers will only read a few of the answers and miss the ones that save them from danger is a rabbit hole from which we can never return. Under the same reasoning, people might read "if you mix ammonia and bleach.." in an answer and do so without noticing that the rest of the sentence reads "... you will create a deadly poison, so don't do it." And, again, we're talking about common misconceptions, so it's not likely these answers will be introducing any new dangerous ideas to the reader that they wouldn't get elsewhere. It's better to address them.
posted by koeselitz at 4:48 PM on December 2, 2014 [3 favorites]


A1. Yes, your cat can safely ingest anything you can safely ingest.
A2. The advice given by A1 is dangerous. I don't know about hamburger helper, but its definitely not safe to give your cat, for example, acetaminophen in any dosage.

As I understand it, under the current guidelines, A2 would be deleted, but A1 would be allowed to stand.


I don't really think so. I think you're looking at the deletion reasons through the wrong filter. I don't think there really is a right/wrong thing or disputing previous answers = automatically bad thing with the mods. I think it's more of a "is this likely to cause a shitstorm that overshadows the original question" thing. Starting an argument about the effectiveness of acupuncture is (quite obviously!) going to cause a huge sideshow from the subject of the question, so that gets deleted. I'd guess the disputing comments that get deleted are about things that are likely to cause the sideshows, not just because they're disputing other answers.
posted by LionIndex at 4:51 PM on December 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


There are experts who know more, and when it comes to quantitative questions only, those experts need to be granted more weight than non-experts.

Except that even among food safety experts sometimes "unsafe" is "safe enough, I guess*."

For the record, I am a (former, lapsed) Food Service Manager officially certified by the state of Texas, although I don't consider myself an expert on food safety anymore nor does it inform 99.9% of my Can I Eat It? answers.

I also think that a lot of the eat or not eat decision is ultimately based on wealth and convenience.

This is a really important and deserves repeating.


*My link isn't an endorsement of the book, just the specific facts related to the unfortunately named California Roast Duck Bill.
posted by Room 641-A at 5:42 PM on December 2, 2014 [3 favorites]


AskMe is interesting in that it is a manifestation of the MetaFilter community's more laissez-faire, libertarian aspect.

For example, most of us abide by the rules we learned in cooking class in state-sponsored middle school, or the various programs food safety certification programs implemented by local government health authorities when licensing restaurants.

Ask MetaFilter chooses to disregard or deprecate those sources of authority, and instead relies on crowd-sourcing wisdom, relying on collective rather than expert authority.

And the mods enforce this decentralized, skeptical approach (for example, no mod has considered implementing Feckless' suggestion).

Looking at Ask MetaFilter (which is a distinct subcommunity in comparision to MetaFilter) it's easy to understand why Libertarian politics are so popular in the States.

It's a cultural thing.
posted by Nevin at 5:42 PM on December 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


Omg metafilter is so libertarian you guys, that's why the United States is so libertarian. And the mods, that's why they're so libertarian. It's the manifestation culture that disregards all safety people.
posted by oceanjesse at 6:00 PM on December 2, 2014 [8 favorites]


For example, most of us abide by the rules we learned in cooking class in state-sponsored middle school, or the various programs food safety certification programs implemented by local government health authorities when licensing restaurants.

This sounds odd to me and is absolutely not my experience, nor the experience of most Americans I've talked about food with. Most learned to cook from their parents (usually mothers), including aspects of food safety. I mean, we wouldn't even have these questions if "most of us" abided by rules learned in food safety certification programs.
posted by Lexica at 6:02 PM on December 2, 2014 [12 favorites]


I think that people are being somewhat harsh about fffm's concerns here. This meta reminded me of a few cases I've seen where poor advice was given within a very small set of answers. That's where fffm's concerns are the most visible to me; situations where only, say, three people answer the question and one of the responses has dangerous advice. Askme provides more than just solutions, is provides perspective. If someone posts a financial question and someone responds with an answer that suggests something that's non-obviously illegal, but then thirty people come in to say that the commenter's advice is really bad, I don't see that as a big concern. In that case, the asker got not only advice, but consensus. Where I can see fffm's concerns playing out is in threads where there are only one or two responses, and one of them is really dangerous or illegal, but there isn't a large number of other answers to contradict it. While I generally agree with the standard that we should assume that the OPs are capable of ferreting out good from bad advice on their own, having a very small bin of answers can make it look like the given solution is obvious and accepted by the community, especially if a reader is standing on the outside and doesn't really understand how askme works.

I'm not saying that this is something can or even should be solved, but I didn’t read fffm's intent as demanding action, but more of looking to see if there were any idea afloat that might alleviate the problem.
posted by Shouraku at 6:13 PM on December 2, 2014 [3 favorites]


This is difficult for me, because I don't think I've ever answered one of these questions, although I read them avidly.

I do recall a moment of horror, at 3 a.m., watching my Dad eating some meat stew that had been left on the stove. My folks regularly left things out and ate them the next day. But they grew up in an era without constant refrigeration. My Mom also cooked pork to within its life, but nowadays that's not necessary. I use a digital meat thermometer for everything.

I admit to snagging some meals off the stove if I've left it out. But in general, I don't eat something that I know will be bad (tuna salad, anything with mayo). As my Dad said, "when in doubt, throw it out." And I adhere to that.

Not sure the question is about food: it's about waste, i.e. I have this tasty food and I don't want to waste it; what do I do? And I'm thinking, dude, you can get more tasty food, why even think about making yourself sick? So I don't answer the question. Because if it were me, I would probably chuck it, my cats might have licked it, I should have put it away, my bad, so sad.

So in general, I think food safety should be of utmost concern, yes. I agree.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 6:23 PM on December 2, 2014


If the "should I eat it threads" were routinely decided by a pile-on of trolls daring the OP to 'like, totally eat it, guy', then I'd share fffm's concern. People with expertise quickly get recognized here, so if you have knowledge and are able to answer a question, please do so. You'll leave the place little better than you found it.
posted by scruss at 6:32 PM on December 2, 2014


Interesting MeTa.

I can understand where this is coming from in the sense that my expertise is medicine, and sometimes I see answers here that really burn me with their incorrectness and sometimes even with the potential that they might be dangerous. I rarely though see questions where I feel that the incorrect answers need to be deleted, mostly because I think I can usually provide a reasonable answer that explains why the incorrect answers are incorrect, with references if needed.

My take home from this discussion is that if I do see such answers, I perhaps ought to at least occasionally, in the rare circumstance where it seems warranted, message the mods to see if they are willing to delete the incorrect answer. But I really think this should be limited to truly incorrect answers, not ones where there is a reasonable question of risk tolerance variation that might occur between reasonable people - for example, although I am a physician and I intellectually know what you say about how cooking things thoroughly doesn't necessarily make them safe, and that if foods look and smell fine that they are fine, I personally have a high risk tolerance for food safety, and I absolutely employ both of those methods on a regular basis for deciding whether to eat something. I generally answer SIEI questions as if they were asking "would you eat this?" and qualify my answers with the fact that I am more lenient on such things than most people, because I very rarely get food poisoning despite eating dicey food at least weekly (dinner tonight was a week old salad with goat cheese in it, and week-old quinoa leftovers mixed with T-day turkey and gravy leftovers, for example)

I also want to point out that a significant portion of the food poisoning in the stats you'll find online has little to do with incorrect home preparation or storage - the food is contaminated when it is prepared or packaged and would be dangerous no matter how it was prepared or stored (one recent example would be the peanut butter/salmonella debacle)

Finally, I do want to suggest that the OP's personal risk tolerance level might be a lot lower than the average person's. OP, perhaps I am wrong about this, but I've noticed you commenting in a number of threads with the implication that acetaminophen is a dangerous medication regardless of how it is used (i.e. that even the regular prescribed dose or less of acetaminophen is potentially significantly harmful). This is not a perspective that the medical community shares - I'm not saying you can't personally believe that, because you're allowed to not use acetaminophen if you think the risk is too high despite the evidence to the contrary, but I haven't asked the mods to take down any of these answers, or flagged them, even though I believe them to be factually incorrect.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 6:44 PM on December 2, 2014 [26 favorites]


I responded, pointing out as politely as I could that acupuncture is dangerous, expensive, and not medically proven to be effective at treating any condition.

256, I don't know what your expertise is in, but acupuncture is not homeopathy and there are studies that say that acupuncture can be effective and helpful to patients managing certain chronic conditions. Here's an NIH source that says as much.
posted by discopolo at 8:40 PM on December 2, 2014


(And for whatever it's worth, I'm currently pursuing my doctorate in a professional health sciences program, which is why most answers that I would take seriously would be from treehorn + bunny, who has training and experience. I wouldn't even trust myself---I'm just in training now. All I know is that I question the layperson's anecdata more from all the studying I do, because everybody wants to sound like they know something as a total fact that is universally applicable to all cases.
posted by discopolo at 8:52 PM on December 2, 2014


Oh, hey, all this spoiled food talk is reminding me of David Sedaris's brother Paul!

When my sisters and I eventually left home, it seemed like a natural progression – young adults shifting from one environment to the next. While our departures had been relatively painless, Paul’s was like releasing a domestic animal into the wild.

He knew how to plan a meal but displayed a remarkable lack of patience when it came time for the actual cooking. Frozen dinners were often eaten exactly as sold, the Salisbury steak amounting to a stickless meat Popsicle.

I phoned one night just as he was leaning a family pack of frozen chicken wings against the back door. He’d forgotten to defrost them and was now attempting to stomp the solid mass into three 6-inch portions, which he’d stack in a pile and force into his toaster oven. I heard the singular sound of boot against crystallized meat and listened as my brother panted for breath.

“Goddamn…fucking…chicken…wings.”

I called again the following evening and was told that after all that work, the chicken had been spoiled. It tasted like fish, so he threw it away and called it a night. A few hours later, having decided that spoiled chicken was better than no chicken at all, he got out of bed, stepped outside in his underpants, and proceeded to eat the leftovers directly from the garbage can. I was mortified. “In your underpants?” “Damned straight,” he said. “I ain’t getting dressed up to eat no fish-assed-tasting chicken.”

posted by discopolo at 8:59 PM on December 2, 2014 [12 favorites]


“I ain’t getting dressed up to eat no fish-assed-tasting chicken.”

This is my new personal mantra. Words to live by, my friends.
posted by winna at 9:21 PM on December 2, 2014 [6 favorites]


Oh, this is about my question! Maybe! I'm not going to read the whole thread because I'm in finals, but I should say: I didn't eat the ravioli. Even though some folks said I could. Because I considered my options and thought about it independently, and was using AskMetafilter as a way to suss out what general opinion might be. If everyone had said "eat it," I might have. Since there was controversy (and obviously I wasn't set one outcome, or I wouldn't have asked), I added that controversy to the long list of other considerations and decided not to do it.
posted by verbyournouns at 10:06 PM on December 2, 2014 [14 favorites]


I just want to say, having lived through the Tylenol scare, I myself don't take acetaminophen. Also, there was an article in Reader's Digest that talked about a man who had liver failure after drinking one glass of red wine and then taking acetaminophen. So I can see how it would be a problem for a person. I won't take it. I know it's not normal, but I just won't take it. Sorry. Excuse me for living, but I won't take the stuff.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 11:06 PM on December 2, 2014


can anyone point out any food toxins or pathogens that are not inactivated by say, brief exposure to boiling

I mentioned this in the other thread, but B. cereus spores and S. aureus toxins can both survive cooking and cause illness.

C. difficile spores can also survive a nuclear apocalypse (slight exaggeration), though exposure doesn't mean you'll get sick - antibiotic use and hospital stays are the main things that make people more susceptible. Nevertheless, they can handle extended cooking at 160F.
posted by en forme de poire at 12:01 AM on December 3, 2014 [3 favorites]


(And yeah that includes exposure to boiling temperatures: quick ref for the staph toxin. On my phone but same is true for B. cereus also.)
posted by en forme de poire at 12:09 AM on December 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


BRB blasting everything I own with UV light.
posted by running order squabble fest at 6:04 AM on December 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


I have never understood "can I eat it?" questions. It is hard to imagine the calculation of risk where the convenience of eating handy food outweighs potential medical harm.
posted by Tanizaki at 7:13 AM on December 3, 2014


I started working in restaurants when I was 14 in 1990. I started cooking at 16 and cooked until I went off to college in 1994. I went to culinary school and was a chef from 2002-2006. I maintained my HACCP certification from 2002-2012, finally letting it lapse because I don't cook professionally anymore and it just costs me money. I've answered several 'should I eat this threads.' I rarely answer them now.

Here's the thing. Food safety standards in the US have changed drastically in the time I've cooked. AskMe is a searchable database that gives searchable answers from the beginning of its history. So an answer from 2005 with 2005 HACCP standards is just as viewable as an answer meeting 2013 HACCP standards. What are things that have changed - just as an example? Well I've seen guidelines for chicken going from 165 degrees to 175 degrees to some even reading 180 degrees if I recall correctly. Did the chicken get more diseased in that time? I mean... I don't know for sure, but there were reports of something like 50% of chicken being exposed (not having, but being exposed) to salmonella back in 2005. Back when I was cooking in high end dining a piece of chicken coked to 180 degrees would have sent any exec chef I worked for into a Gordon Ramsey-esque fit of 'how could I do that to a piece of meat?!?!?' Standards change. Equally though, if I left food out for too long in a restaurant and had to throw it, any exec chef will also be sent into a Gordon Ramsey-esque fit. *EDIT*: They would want my head on a plate for failing to put it in the fridge. They would want me to throw out the food before they threw me out of their restaurant.

I've had an advantage most of my life of being resistant to food-borne illness pretty well. There of course would be an exception of KFC during college that sent me into such a deadly spiral of uncontrollable vomiting and diarrhea that I would never will it on anyone ever. If I had been not at the peak of my health and well-being at the time, I would have needed serious hospitalization. I'll go one step further and state that a contributing factor in my father's death was e-coli (not from food-borne illness).

So there's advice that I can give from a food safety perspective. Then there's personal advice and tolerance. I generally give/gave advice along the HACCP guidelines, and would make a statement that any restaurant would have thrown out the food. I'd then also follow with a personal statement as to whether, personally, I was willing to take the risk given the parameters / tastiness of the dish - and yeah... there are times when I've looked at something at home where I've made a mistake - which is likely more rare than most people because I was trained and paid to put food in the fridge - and been... 'Well, it's worth the risk of hospitalization. F@%!-it, I'm chowing down.'

With all that in mind, I no longer hang out in 'Should I eat it?' threads. Its not that I don't care, or that I don't know the answer, but I recognize that if people really want to push this, there's nothing I can do about it - like recommend they read prior AskMes, or do a real quick search on food borne illness. I mean - if you are posting here, you are already on the internet. Even wikipedia will list out what the results of any food borne illness are. Pondering Lysteria? Ask for it by name! I mean - come on! If you like rectal bleeding - some forms of food poisoning may be worth the risk! If I couldn't make you search prior questions on the internet with my magic food safety telepathy, I doubt I can prevent you from shoveling some questionable but tasty and /or expensive food into your mouth.

So yeah. As an expert, I stopped reading those.
posted by Nanukthedog at 7:14 AM on December 3, 2014 [6 favorites]


"CDC estimates that each year roughly 1 in 6 Americans (or 48 million people) get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die of foodborne diseases."

I like those odds!
posted by Greg Nog at 7:39 AM on December 3, 2014 [4 favorites]


It is hard to imagine the calculation of risk where the convenience of eating handy food outweighs potential medical harm.

People don't like wasting food. It costs money.
posted by qi at 8:05 AM on December 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


It is hard to imagine the calculation of risk where the convenience of eating handy food outweighs potential medical harm.

Your life is clearly different from the lives of other people here. There are things on MeFi that I don't understand particularly well either, so I just tend to listen to what people are telling me to see if I can understand it better. You've made your decisions in what seems to you to be a rational way and so it's hard to get your head around what other possible rationale people might have for their own decisions.

Speaking personally as someone who is anxious about some things (usually decently managed) for me sometimes it's good to have reality checks from other people about things because I don't trust my anxious mind to give me good feedback. So in a situation where I was like "Hmm the chicken sandwich was in my car for six hours with mayo on it but I am hungry and otherwise I'd have to drive 45 minutes in a snowstorm to get some other form of protein. What are the actual risks?" getting feedback from people might help me make the real life decisions I have to make where my anxious mind might be like "aaaaa toss it out and go out in that snowstorm" when realistically that might not be the better choice. It's tough to not trust your own judgment, in my case, but that's the brain I've been given.

It's all about balance. I know in some people's minds the paths are a lot clearer. I think what's interesting about these threads is that for a lot of people the paths are absolutely clear but they are different because people weigh different variables higher or lower than others. Food costs money. Doctors cost money. Missing work costs money. Some people are emetophobic. Some people are on vacation somewhere. Some people have relatives to please. There's a cost to misery. There is a cost to hunger. The idea that there is more than one entirely rational way to approach a basic question like "Should I eat this" is one of the things I like about AskMe but I can also understand how it makes other people sort of nuts.
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 9:11 AM on December 3, 2014 [30 favorites]


“I ain’t getting dressed up to eat no fish-assed-tasting chicken.”

Wise man, that Rooster. Someone should make him a mod.
posted by octobersurprise at 10:22 AM on December 3, 2014


I have given exactly the kind of advice feckless is criticising - and I think he's right.

People are saying "how can the mods be expected to adjudicate what's right?" But if they can't tell what advice may be dangerous how can they ethically run an advice site? Giving real life advice requires higher standards than sharing links on the blue.

I think it's alright for people to share their personal experience of an illness or a therapy. It's fine to direct people to good resources. Pulling advice that may be dangerous out of your bottom is not, and it's perfectly practical to ban it. In fact if we want to be respectable it's required.
posted by Segundus at 10:41 AM on December 3, 2014


Just wanted to support cortex's original comment at the top. I have indeed flagged an answer and then dropped the mods a line to explain what was wrong (it was something involving an inappropriate generalization from one type of medication to another) because I thought it might not be super clear. (I put an "urgent" on it because it was an early response and I thought that the error could derail the thread.)

Indeed it was deleted, and mathowie replied to thank me for the clarification because it'd already gotten a few flags but he wasn't sure what the problem was. So the system worked for me. Honestly, the contact form is wonderful. Even since the cutbacks I've found the mods to be quick and unfailing in their replies, as well as very polite and helpful. I haven't always got my way so to speak, but they've always seemed more than willing to explain their rationale in a clear and respectful manner and I've never felt anything less than satisfied. Such service for a $5 one-time fee is really remarkable.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 10:47 AM on December 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


People don't like wasting food. It costs money.

So does illness, which also costs time and varying levels of discomfort. If I am worried about $10 worth of meat, it is a pretty simple calculus. For example, if there is a 10% chance that eating the meat might make me sick, it is only a smart bet to eat the meat if getting sick will cost me less than $100 in medical expenses (not only the actual costs of health care but lost time and whatever value I place on my physical comfort - some people might pay $100 to simply not vomit). Tossing potential unsafe food is essential the payment of a health insurance premium.

Barfblog is a great resource to disabuse one of taking risks with food.
posted by Tanizaki at 10:56 AM on December 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


So does illness, which also costs time and varying levels of discomfort.

People are also prone to optimism bias.

Studies show that even when adequately informed, many people underestimate their potential for personal risk.
posted by qi at 11:04 AM on December 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


But if they can't tell what advice may be dangerous how can they ethically run an advice site?

If this is the necessary standard for Ask Metafilter then the site will need to be shut down. It is not possibly achievable given the site's budget, and trying to achieve it would turn it into a different site.

AskMe is not the CDC, it is not the Poison Control Center, it is not OSHA, it is not the Bureau of Standards. AskMe is not staffed 24x7 by trained medical personnel, attorneys, or electricians. It's a bunch of people sitting around their keyboards doing their best to share what they know and help other people out. That's it, nothing more nothing less. And yet, over the years thousands of people have been helped in ways large and small by AskMe. It has done a lot of good.

The job of the mods is to manage the conversation and keep people civil, not serve as a panel of polymath experts who are in a position and to adjudicate the truth. "Right answers" are selected by OPs, not by the mods. There's a good reason for that. We trust the intelligence of the people who ask questions, we rely on it. It is a necessary precondition of using the site properly.

Anyone who thinks that AskMe comes equipped with parental controls that prevent harmful information needs to rethink whether this is a safe place for them, because it's probably not. There is all sorts of dark, scary, and potentially dangerous advice given out on AskMe. DTMFA can be seriously dangerous, in multiple ways. So can "give it one more try".

It could be very dangerous to suggest that someone use a ladder to change a lightbulb. Every year thousands of people are injured using ladders. The US government requires that all ladders come with bright yellow safety labels warning of possible dangers. Since the US government has decided that ladders are dangerous, wouldn't it follow that the mods should delete all answers that recommend the use of ladders unless they are accompanied by a link to appropriate ladder safety practices?

Where does it end?

It ends one of two places. AskMe ceases to exist, or people learn to accept it, value it, love it, contribute to it, and use it for what it is. You've all been here long enough. You should recognize the terrain. Look around. It works really well.
posted by alms at 11:18 AM on December 3, 2014 [18 favorites]


Hmm. Definitely sympathetic to the OP on this, but I also feel like I've learned a fair amount about food safety from reading these threads (including the most recent one). Most of the restaurants I've worked in, the extent of the food safety training was about what not to store above other stuff (e.g. old meat above new meat; bleach above any food). In fact, a pretty big reason why I never really deviated from being a vegetarian was working in dodgy restaurants with meat.
posted by klangklangston at 11:20 AM on December 3, 2014


Tanizaki: "If I am worried about $10 worth of meat, it is a pretty simple calculus. For example, if there is a 10% chance that eating the meat might make me sick, it is only a smart bet to eat the meat if getting sick will cost me less than $100 in medical expenses (not only the actual costs of health care but lost time and whatever value I place on my physical comfort - some people might pay $100 to simply not vomit). Tossing potential unsafe food is essential the payment of a health insurance premium."

This assumes that everyone is perfectly rational, homo economicus. They are aware of all food safety guidelines, down to the percentage chance of contracting illness, as well as the exact cost of the theoretical medical expense/time lost from work, as well as any replacement food. This is not particularly realistic.

What actually happens is people generalize from what info they have, say, "This is probably fine," or, "Nah." So it behooves other folks to comment with safe food guideline info in response to these kinds of AskMes. More info usually (not always) results in better decisions.

Not everyone acts in a coldly rational manner at all times. Whether that's right or wrong, it's a pretty important thing to keep in mind when dealing with other humans.
posted by Chrysostom at 11:52 AM on December 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


For example, most of us abide by the rules we learned in cooking class in state-sponsored middle school, or the various programs food safety certification programs implemented by local government health authorities when licensing restaurants. [Nevin]

This sounds odd to me and is absolutely not my experience, nor the experience of most Americans I've talked about food with... I mean, we wouldn't even have these questions if "most of us" abided by rules learned in food safety certification programs.


I'm pretty sure Nevin is using "us" to refer to non-Americans. His point is that elsewhere they have state-sponsored & local authorities who provide guidance, but in America we crowd-source most information and think that gives us good enough results, which is where some end up thinking that would work for everything, and become Libertarians.
posted by mdn at 12:14 PM on December 3, 2014


So does illness, which also costs time and varying levels of discomfort. If I am worried about $10 worth of meat, it is a pretty simple calculus. For example, if there is a 10% chance that eating the meat might make me sick...

So where do we look up the numerical values for the probability of a specific food item making a specific person sick? We should post a link to that in every food-related AskMe.
posted by Dr Dracator at 12:25 PM on December 3, 2014 [8 favorites]


If this is the necessary standard for Ask Metafilter then the site will need to be shut down.

Yeah, except for the rest of what I said. It is possible to draw some distinctions between safe kinds of answer and unsafe ones, if we're willing to put a little effort into thinking about it.

At the moment there are only two rules that are enforced on Ask; address the question, and no jokes. It's not enough if people may be harmed by bad answers.

In my ideal world the Mefi standard for advice sites would be quoted as an exemplar of best practice. We could do that. I can't believe we don't care about people being hurt by our advice.
posted by Segundus at 12:45 PM on December 3, 2014


Calculus and rationality be damned. Our motto is with Julia Child: we're alone in the kitchen. Who's to know.
posted by Namlit at 12:47 PM on December 3, 2014 [3 favorites]


Tanizaki, I think the general form of your calculation is right, but the precise results are going to depend a lot on what exactly those rates are. In particular I'm not sure how you'd derive that 10% number, even if you're doing a sort of Fermi-esque order of magnitude estimation. It's likely to be very different for different pathogens as well (around 0% for botulism and low for salmonella as well, but perhaps even higher for B. cereus - though not every strain of B. cereus is pathogenic in the same way or even at all).
posted by en forme de poire at 12:57 PM on December 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


I can't believe we don't care about people being hurt by our advice.

I think that's blatantly not the case. If it was then no one would ever correct the bad advice. fffm himself has stepped into threads, such as the one which seems to have prompted this MeTa, to contradict wrong information and presumably he did that because he cared enough about some random Internet stranger not to let them be harmed. In all sorts of threads people say "no that's wrong/dangerous/unhealthy/immoral - do this instead", because they wont sit back and let "bad" advice stand which might hurt someone. The system works.
posted by billiebee at 1:07 PM on December 3, 2014


I can't believe we don't care about people being hurt by our advice.

There is a long, long stretch of distance between "it's impossible to prevent harm, especially in cases where the risk of harm is probabilistic and subject to disagreement" and "we don't care about people being hurt".

The reason that the answer to this post wasn't "good idea, we'll start doing that" is not because we don't care about the possibility of harm, it's because there are huge practical difficulties involved in guaranteeing the avoidance of same. I talked a bit about that right up front in here, and underscored the value of dropping us a line directly if there's a situation that you feel like does constitute actively dangerous advice.

The proposal to ban dangerous advice is a well-meaning one that I can totally understand putting on the table. But it's not a proposal that's at all functional as a one-liner; at that point it's just a hopeful sketch on a bar napkin. Specific, practicable methods for improving the avoidance of harm without shutting down or upending the site are worth talking about in here, but generalities under the banner of "do it if you care about people" are not the form that would need to take.
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:18 PM on December 3, 2014 [6 favorites]


Proposed solution: Add "Dangerous advice" to the list of flags, and have anything flagged as such immediately ping a moderator (even if there's only a very small number).
posted by jbickers at 1:22 PM on December 3, 2014 [6 favorites]


Pulling advice that may be dangerous out of your bottom is not, and it's perfectly practical to ban it.

Advice is just like food: you can't tell whether it's bad by smelling it.

There are examples right in this thread. Just search for "botulism toxin" and read from the top down. There are statements of fact that appear very credible --- they don't appear to be pulled out of anyone's ass, and the mods would presumably not have deleted them --- which are later discredited by others with citations.

That is how the site is supposed to work. It is self-correcting.

It would be far worse to live in a world where we assumed the mods were acting as fact-checkers and deleting incorrect and potentially dangerous information before it can do any harm (presumably before anyone has read it at all). If AskMe aspired to be error-free and danger-free some people would begin to assume that it actually was error- and danger-free. They wouldn't bother reading surrounding comments for context. That would be a far more dangerous and risky situation than what we have now.
posted by alms at 1:26 PM on December 3, 2014 [4 favorites]


BTW, I totally missed that while the diarrheal B. cereus toxin is heat-labile, the emetic toxin is extremely heat-stable: link - so it's not just the spores that are cause for concern. The emetic toxin can actually apparently survive autoclaving (!!!).
posted by en forme de poire at 2:36 PM on December 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


> I can't believe we don't care about people being hurt by our advice.

Oh, come on. Do you have a single example of someone who was hurt by advice from AskMe (which has quite a long history by now)? If not, why is your suggestion any better than voting restrictions instituted to prevent nonexistent or barely existing voter fraud?
posted by languagehat at 3:07 PM on December 3, 2014 [3 favorites]


Proposed solution: Add "Dangerous advice" to the list of flags, and have anything flagged as such immediately ping a moderator (even if there's only a very small number).

I think this is a thoroughly excellent idea. Important that it says dangerous rather than wrong, though.
posted by Sebmojo at 5:00 PM on December 3, 2014


jbickers: "Proposed solution: Add "Dangerous advice" to the list of flags, and have anything flagged as such immediately ping a moderator (even if there's only a very small number)."

I like this idea, though I'm concerned that it might be misused as a possible silencing tactic by some who might have very strong opinions but no tolerance of opposing viewpoints. Then we're back to mods having to judge between them without the required expertise.

Personally, I think an expectation that every answer must be objectively correct isn't a reasonable one. I think every user should be realistic about what a resource like AskMe can provide. If you want to know how to reset an old iPod, ask away. Someone here knows. If you want to figure out whether you have a brain tumor without seeing a doctor, you're not likely to get a useful answer here.
posted by double block and bleed at 5:05 PM on December 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


Do you have a single example of someone who was hurt by advice from AskMe

I got turned into a newt
posted by klangklangston at 5:07 PM on December 3, 2014 [10 favorites]


jbickers: “Proposed solution: Add ‘Dangerous advice’ to the list of flags, and have anything flagged as such immediately ping a moderator (even if there's only a very small number).”

This is not really a complete solution – what are mods supposed to do with "dangerous advice" flags? Maybe if we talk about actual implementation it might move the conversation in the direction of practical realities.

If a comment is flagged as "Dangerous Advice," what should a mod do? I think it's clear that just deleting the comment would be a bad idea. Why? Because if we know that certain advice is dangerous, it's really our responsibility to tell the commenter that. If we just delete bad advice, we leave the possibility that the asker will hear it somewhere else anyway. And that's before even contemplating the usual problem for deleted comments: they often just get posted again, by the same commenter or by a different one.

So a possibility might be for "dangerous advice" to get deleted with a mod note to the effect of "mixing ammonia and bleach can create toxic fumes; please don't suggest this."

I forsee some problems with this. For one thing, it introduces a whole hell of a lot of work for mods, who will have to evaluate flags and determine whether any given flagged advice is actually dangerous before describing why it is dangerous in their response comment. For another thing, at least with the more controversial things (say for example responses to a question like "should I vaccinate my children, and if so, when?") mods are likely to draw some ire from people no matter what side they take. And finally I think this ultimately leaves mods in a position where they could be construed as giving medical advice, since they are telling people what is and is not dangerous for them. Is that legally problematic? I imagine it might be.

It really seems to me that the best solution is still for us users to offer comprehensive and careful responses in-thread that explain exactly what is dangerous and why one shouldn't do it. That way, the site isn't creating a liability by advising people on something serious, the mods don't have to do a crazy amount of extra background work, and dangerous advice gets confronted and dealt with, not swept under the rug where it might still do some harm if only through ignorance.
posted by koeselitz at 5:23 PM on December 3, 2014 [5 favorites]


Oh, and one other thing:

I think it's really optimistic to imagine that there might be "a very small number" of comments in Ask flagged as "Dangerous Advice." I am quite sure it would almost immediately become the most-used flag in Ask, and maybe on the whole site. I see advice there every single day that I might characterize that way, if only because I disagree with it. I can see a lot of people using that flag a lot with comments they just think are woefully wrong, without much regard to whether they're actually physically dangerous to human beings.
posted by koeselitz at 5:26 PM on December 3, 2014 [9 favorites]


I am quite sure it would almost immediately become the most-used flag in Ask, and maybe on the whole site.

I am quite sure that it wouldn't.
posted by Sebmojo at 5:38 PM on December 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


Sebmojo: “I am quite sure that it wouldn't.”

Sigh. Okay, well – why?

The flagging reasons we have currently are deliberately ambiguous and vague in a way that makes it difficult to apply them to most comments. You have to know what the guidelines are in order to say it breaks them; and you can choose "other," but that's pretty open-ended, too. My sense is that a big reason for this is to make sure people really mean it when they're flagging.

I don't think folks are comprehending just how broad a category "dangerous advice" is. Advice can be dangerous in a lot of senses – is it dangerous to lie to your partner habitually about something that's important to you? Well, sure in the sense that it might be bad for the relationship; but it's not likely to kill you, and as far as I can tell that's not the kind of advice we're trying to target here. Is it dangerous to cheat on an exam in school? To lie about your salary to a coworker? To date someone you work with? Certainly, yes, those things can be "dangerous," but they're not medically and physically dangerous, which is the dangerous we're talking about.

A factor here that's easy to overlook is that people on Metafilter don't often read Metatalk. When people are selecting flags, we have to assume they're just picking from a list they haven't been previously informed about. If items in the list aren't pretty self-explanatory (or don't demand obvious further information, like a reference to "guidelines") then people are not likely to understand what they're supposed to be used for.

Frankly, I'm not sure why the flags as they stand don't work for this. Why not change the guidelines to say that dangerous advice something is often deleted by the mods? If we do that, then the "breaks the guidelines" flag will work just fine.

That would still give the mods a boatload of extra homework, but at least it would be less ambiguous.
posted by koeselitz at 5:56 PM on December 3, 2014 [4 favorites]


(And that still leaves open the question: what should mods do when things are flagged as "dangerous advice"? That's really not clear to me, and the only reasonable answers, as I said, seem to involve doing research to check whether given advice is or is not actually dangerous.)
posted by koeselitz at 6:01 PM on December 3, 2014


This really isn't a problem with the responses to the questions as it is a problem with the askers irresponsible follow-ups. We need to know if you ate it and died/your house burnt down/your dog ran away or your cat keeps peeing/remains nameless.

More follow-up, people!
posted by BlueHorse at 6:42 PM on December 3, 2014 [4 favorites]


Especially when somebody says they'll report back and then doesn't. I find myself wondering if we should mount a rescue mission.

(There was one recently where someone commented in an AskMe that they were trying the recommended thing and would report back. They haven't so far. I bit the bullet and tried the thing as well and am pleased to report I am not dead yet. I plan to post a brief update to the AskMe with my experience once it's fully resolved, just for the sake of completeness.)
posted by Lexica at 6:52 PM on December 3, 2014 [3 favorites]


circa 1980

Dear Askme,
I think I have an ulcer. Do I really have to stop drinking coffee?

Joe: OP, you need antibiotics because this is a bacterial infection in most cases. The coffee isn't the problem.

Jill: OP, I've been a medical professional for 20 years. Any advice about taking antibiotics for this problem is dangerous because a bacteria doesn't cause ulcers. I've flagged Joe's response as dangerous. All doctors know that ulcers are caused by coffee and stress.
posted by Ik ben afgesneden at 7:29 PM on December 3, 2014 [8 favorites]


what are mods supposed to do with "dangerous advice" flags?

Collect enough of them and they can publish an anthology.
posted by octobersurprise at 8:18 PM on December 3, 2014 [3 favorites]


Sigh. Okay, well – why?

Because Ask Metafilter is not full of idiots, and it has never been full of idiots, and it seems likely, mutatis mutandis, that it will not be full of idiots in the future.

That is why.
posted by Sebmojo at 8:51 PM on December 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


> I also want to point out that a significant portion of the food poisoning in the stats you'll find online has little to do with incorrect home preparation or storage - the food is contaminated when it is prepared or packaged and would be dangerous no matter how it was prepared or stored

Quoted for THANK YOU for more coherently saying what I'm thinking every time I see yet more comments debating the growth rate of various toxins at various temperatures.

Scrub your hands, avoid cross-contamination of kitchen surfaces and utensils, wash the produce even if it's "prewashed," and don't buy supermarket ground beef, people. That'll keep you from food poisoning better than fretting over whether last night's cold pizza is going to kill you.
posted by desuetude at 10:02 PM on December 3, 2014 [9 favorites]


Sebmojo: “Because Ask Metafilter is not full of idiots, and it has never been full of idiots, and it seems likely, mutatis mutandis, that it will not be full of idiots in the future. That is why.”

I explained – pretty clearly, I thought – why plenty of non-idiots might read "dangerous advice" as not necessarily meaning "dangerous" in the sense we mean it. I appreciate that you think the distinction between "dangerous advice" and "wrong advice" will make this clear, but they seem pretty much the same to me, and I don't feel like I'm the only one. And I don't think it's really fair to call people who see nuances here "idiots."

We've never had a flag that says "this is bad advice" – in any sense. And there's a reason for that: a flag like that is pretty tempting to use in many situations beyond its originally intended case. I think it would be a bad flag to have.

Why do you think it's necessary, given the fact that we have a "breaks the guidelines" flag? And, again, what do you think should be done with answers that are flagged "dangerous advice"?
posted by koeselitz at 11:42 PM on December 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


I mean, fine – assume we institute a "Dangerous Advice" flag. Assume that it gets put on the list tomorrow morning. What should mods do when they see that flag?
posted by koeselitz at 11:43 PM on December 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


Exercise their good judgment as to whether it stays or goes I guess, or drop an in-thread note or other use other appropriate mod superpower.

Admittedly you could do this with the existing flags as well, but maybe having a separate flag for this specific problem will be useful. The scenario I am thinking of is a polite, well-written answer that is not obviously problematic, and could slip by as a flagging accident with "other" or "breaks the guidelines".

I don't think anybody is advocating for insta-delete or any other kind of special handling for this flag.
posted by Dr Dracator at 12:57 AM on December 4, 2014


Hm. Is the danger of advice something that can be ascertained by good judgment? I thought the examples everyone gave here were examples where an expert opinion is different from a common conception of things.

I don't know. Maybe this is a good idea. But I see a whole lot of edge cases. Flu vaccination, sexually-transmitted diseases, complicated medical questions, homeopathy – those things will come up eventually. There might be good solutions for those eventualities. Still, it seems like a complicated thing, more complicated than just using good judgment.

Maybe the "dangerous advice" flag could automatically open a dialogue where you could write a brief explanation of what was wrong or dangerous about it.
posted by koeselitz at 1:13 AM on December 4, 2014


Opening a dialog trips my inner single-purpose bolt-on system cruft alarm, whereas a new flag reason fits into the existing system and would probably be very easy to implement - at worst it breaks some flag handling/reporting code somewhere.

If the policy should be that bad advice must be refuted in detail, I think doing it in-thread or via the contact form is good enough.
posted by Dr Dracator at 1:31 AM on December 4, 2014


Sebmojo, askmetafilter may not be full of idiots, but it may have a lot of worrywarts who I DO think would potentially over-use a "dangerous advice" flag. So, no, I agree with koeselitz.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:51 AM on December 4, 2014 [2 favorites]


I might very well end up flagging the advice not to vaccinate one's children as 'dangerous'. And I'm no idiot. I just think it can be very tempting.
Do we really want the mods to look over such flags and decide whether or not they feel that vaccination is a good idea? I know I don't. They have plenty to do already.

So many things are not objectively dangerous, but will be seen as such by some or many of us. So many things require inside knowledge to be correctly recognised as objectively dangerous (or not so).

In the end it comes down to whether the mods should be the ones responsible for whether AskMe answers are reliable. And no, I don't think they should be. That's just asking too much.

We are all responsible for the quality of the answers we give; we are all responsible for what we do with the answers we get.
posted by Too-Ticky at 2:01 AM on December 4, 2014 [4 favorites]


We need a flag that just says RUN.
posted by winna at 4:13 AM on December 4, 2014 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I once suggested someone try drinking a nightcap as a cure for insomnia and you would have thought that I told them to take a bath with their toaster. People have some extremely variable definitions of "dangerous" that might well render such a flag both useless and a huge headache.
posted by 256 at 6:28 AM on December 4, 2014 [7 favorites]


I believe that AskMe answers that are factually incorrect (and thus dangerous) should be deleted.

From an amateur legal standpoint:

If the modagement implemented this policy, there would be an expectation by the user base to assume that "all answers that stand are factually correct". Then the onus would be on the mods to make sure that all answers were correct, or at least NOT WRONG.

And then if someone did take some medical advice that was allowed to stand (even for a short time), and something happened to them, it could be construed as "metafilter's fault".

So as much as I like this idea of deleting everything on metafilter that is wrong, it can't be done because:

1. Too much responsibility on the mods to learn about the minutiae about EVERYTHING health related.
2. There would be nothing on here to read.

Again this is my amateur opinion, but because this is metafilter, you can quote is as absolute truth.
posted by hal_c_on at 10:45 AM on December 4, 2014 [2 favorites]


"It really seems to me that the best solution is still for us users to offer comprehensive and careful responses in-thread that explain exactly what is dangerous and why one shouldn't do it."

I've closely followed and sometimes participated in these discussions and I've very strongly come to believe that the only practical answer to the concerns about wrong/bad/dangerous answers is to foster a community culture that sees answering question as a much more serious responsibility than it currently does, especially regarding any topic that could have substantial negative consequences.

There's no practical way for the mods to police bad answers or even serially bad answerers. And while the rock-bottom core of the problem is with the aksers in terms of them having to learn to develop and use their critical and analytical skills, there's no way we can police that, either. Not even by community culture -- too many askers have only limited community involvement.

We need better answers, and so we need better answerers. We can't police them, not really, but people can police themselves and so I do think it's possible for the community to develop standards of behavior that push people to self-police in this way. That obviously won't eliminate bad answers, but the perfect shouldn't be the enemy of the good. We can do better and we should do better, but the only way that can happen is by community culture. There's no magic bullet.

And that includes a new flag. I very strongly believe that the sexism flag was an essential component of the synergy that transformed the site culture for the better. It signaled that sexism specifically wasn't tolerated. And so it's reasonable and defensible to argue that a "dangerously wrong answer" flag of some type could function the same way. I suppose that I could be persuaded of this. But I think that koeselitz's arguments above are pretty persuasive.

Reading over what I already wrote, what I realize is that the main reason I agree with koeselitz and don't think this is exactly comparable to the sexism flag is because I don't see the community at this point being willing to acknowledge a need for a stronger community ethos about the responsibility of the answerer. People are very casual about answering questions and just as it was the case with sexism, mod action isn't going to solve the problem, only a change in site culture can solve the problem. A flag about shitty answers could change the site culture and cause people to take the responsibility of answering questions more seriously but, frankly, my intuition is that there's a strong prevailing sentiment about AskMe answering that sees it as essentially recreational. I don't see that changing and I think it would have to change. Maybe it could be changed with regard to a few select categories, like law and medicine. But I don't see it happening with "Should I eat this?" questions, much less universally.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 12:18 PM on December 4, 2014 [4 favorites]


jessamyn:
So while I might tell someone in AskMe (in some hypothetical question about good ways to see Frozen) to try dropping acid when you go see Frozen
I am intrigued by your ideas and wish to subscribe to your newsletter.
posted by scrump at 5:32 PM on December 4, 2014 [4 favorites]


People are very casual about answering questions

I think especially when it comes to questions that have fact- or experience-based answers people sometimes forget that it's called Ask and not Guess.
posted by Room 641-A at 6:21 PM on December 4, 2014 [2 favorites]


I don't really see people guessing at answers. Lots just wiki it and maybe explore the links and cites. For me, the strongest answerers are the ones that have been there and done that and are willing to share.

That is what people in pain need.

Gonna go eat something expired now.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 8:05 PM on December 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


Sebmojo, askmetafilter may not be full of idiots, but it may have a lot of worrywarts who I DO think would potentially over-use a "dangerous advice" flag. So, no, I agree with koeselitz.

That is a possibility, but it seems far from unmanageable as an issue. 1 dangerous flag from a known worrywart, eh, glance at it sometime. Five flags from randos, two minutes after posting, there might be something that needs to be addressed.

If the system garners tens of thousands of flags, drowning the mods and those they love in a scuttling tide of 'dangerous' flags in a way that renders the whole Metafilter project a tottering impossibility, then turn it off.

Seems straightforward and (importantly) slots into the current silent moderation alert system.
posted by Sebmojo at 9:05 PM on December 4, 2014


So the mods would have to act on these flags, taking into account whether we are 'known worrywarts'? Would they keep a list? Could a person get a remark such as 'Worries too much, except in the medical/legal/etcetera field where she happens to be an expert' 'Generally sane except about pets'?
Still seems like a lot of work. And it still puts the onus on the mods, and I really agree with hal_c_on and others that that is not where it should be.

The mods are not responsible for the answers being correct and safe. If they were, Metafilter could be in for a world of hurt and lawsuits.
posted by Too-Ticky at 1:54 AM on December 5, 2014 [4 favorites]


Would they keep a list?

It will go down on your permanent record.
posted by Room 641-A at 7:16 AM on December 5, 2014 [4 favorites]


A flagging system might sound like a nice automatic alternative, but I've said why I think it's unworkable.

Maybe the workable alternative is to emphasize again that, as taz said, it is okay to say in the comments that the advice another user has given is bad or dangerous advice as long as you do it right. It's okay to address yourself to the asker and say something like: "Some people here have said you should X; but that is a bad idea because it's actually dangerously incorrect. See this link. A better idea would be for you to Y." As long as you're addressing yourself to the asker and offering an answer to the question, and not just responding to another answer, you should be fine.

And I feel like Ask could be improved significantly if more people were willing to do this in a careful and thoughtful way. This is what we need: more intelligent experts who are able to elucidate their expertise in an understanding way while refuting and thereby eliminating the effects of bad or dangerous advice.

It would be awesome if the mods could do this for us, but that's more than we can ask of them, I think. We need to do the "be the change" thing ourselves. There's no other option, really.
posted by koeselitz at 9:09 AM on December 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


Room 641-A: "It will go down on your permanent record."

Oh yeah? Well, don't get so distressed. Did I happen to mention that I'm impressed?

posted by Chrysostom at 9:28 AM on December 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


So the mods would have to act on these flags, taking into account whether we are 'known worrywarts'?

No, any more than they have to act on flags now. They're informative. And you joke about the list, but I'm pretty confident the mods already have an idea of most of the well-known posters' hot-buttons and hobby horses.

Anyhoo, we're in agreement so I won't argue, I'm absolutely fine with the status quo.
posted by Sebmojo at 5:57 PM on December 10, 2014


The discussion in this thread inspired me to research and write a megapost to the blue on food poisoning and food safety. I do not expect it to resolve the side discussion about people's differences in risk tolerance when it comes to food safety, but I had fun writing it.
posted by deludingmyself at 1:14 PM on December 15, 2014 [4 favorites]


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