Free advice is seldom cheap June 20, 2013 7:38 AM   Subscribe

Cribcage hit the nail on the head with this recent comment: "people who have no idea what they're talking about but think posting answers on AskMe is 'fun' will now believe they have some factual basis for telling you in confident detail exactly what to do..."

"...These folks' participation on the site far outstrips their actual fields of knowledge, they're not really helping anybody notwithstanding the fun they have, and they potentially cause harm in instances like this one if you, the OP, aren't careful to remember that free advice is worth what you paid."

I have often had such thoughts of the quality of answers on AskMe. Given my profession, I can most easily spot this in the questions about legal issues but I see it quite a bit in other areas.

I know that a rule requiring qualifications to answer would be unenforceable and probably not desirable, either. However, I was wondering if there might be a way we can encourage an etiquette of not answering unless you're qualified/know what you are talking about. This does not mean some sort of professional qualification, although it could, but I suspect it would generally be a matter of the answer's personal knowledge and experience. For example, I would not answer a question about what rock-climbing shoes are good because I do not engage in that pastime, or where to find the best barbeque in St. Louis because I have never been. Yes, I realize the Dunning-Kruger effect suggests that I have probably broken the etiquette I am proposing.

I am curious to know the thoughts of other members on this point.
posted by Tanizaki to Etiquette/Policy at 7:38 AM (220 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

I support this 100%. Unfortunately, I'm not sure what can be done to keep people who don't know what they're talking about from commenting. Their ignorance seems to extend to how clueless they are on the subject.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:44 AM on June 20, 2013 [15 favorites]


Tanizaki, I recently had someone trying to explain my field to me via MeMail, so I feel your pain. But I don't expect it to change and I don't think this is going to go well. This has been litigated in Metatalk several times, and if we don't respect the authority of medical doctors, we're not going to do it for lawyers.

I think it's great that lawyers participate in the site, but you should recognize that the format here is intended to level the playing field between amateurs and experts. If that offends your professional sensibilities, you're going to be offended a lot.
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:47 AM on June 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


I think the dismal drumbeat of 'get a lawyer' is irritating as hell. I think the constant assumption that, if someone is asking a question that may touch in part upon legal matters, they are expecting THE ONE AND ONLY ANSWER from AskMe, and have not considered or pursued other sources of information, EVEN IF IT IS STATED IN THE QUESTION THAT OTHER SOURCES ARE IN PLAY, is insulting and contaminates the discourse with ill will.

I understand that lawyers want to refrain from offering legal advice to random strangers on the internet as a matter of professional ethics, but for the love of Pete, it's not necessary to shout "GET A LAWYER OMG YOU IDIOT WHY ARE YOU ASKING FOR ADVICE HERE" in every single question that might conceivably have some legal angle to it.
posted by Mister_A at 7:48 AM on June 20, 2013 [34 favorites]


I was wondering if there might be a way we can encourage an etiquette of not answering unless you're qualified/know what you are talking about.

This is the reason I participate so little in AskMe. I am basically a dunderhead.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:48 AM on June 20, 2013 [8 favorites]


I was wondering if there might be a way we can encourage an etiquette of not answering unless you're qualified/know what you are talking about.

From a mod perspective, the answer to this is a firm "No." That's not an enforceable guideline. There could be social pressure for people to not do that which is not at all a bad idea especially in certain circumstances. I am in support of people being very clear on what their qualifications might be for offering advice on a subject and I think it's okay for people to ask (and not fight) about that in AskMe. That said, I think there's just a conflict between what people wish AskMe was and what it actually is. Some days I'd love a place to get free legal/medical advice but AskMe is not that place even though some people might wish that it was. Some professionals feel okay about sharing some of their expertise here (even lawyers and doctors) and many do not. People need to follow their own moral compasses and as the people who run the site we likewise have to follow ours.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:49 AM on June 20, 2013 [8 favorites]


I think the essential problem is people not knowing enough to know they're not qualified to provide a complete answer to a question.

But this is kind of why we had the whole Reiki thread a week or so ago. If I see erroneous answers in a field where I have some expertise, I'll try to provide more correct/complete information, but I'll also try to back it up with a decent explanation of why or relevant links or something so I'm not just saying "WRONG!" or something like that. Just fight bad info with more/better info.
posted by LionIndex at 7:49 AM on June 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


As a non-lawyer who nonetheless agrees that a lot of answers to legal-related questions on AskMe leave something to be desired, I am sympathetic to your qualms. Nonetheless there is no practical solution to the problem of "don't answer questions for which you are not fully informed". If there were, this problem would have been solved years ago, as it is a perennial Metatalk topic.
posted by dfriedman at 7:51 AM on June 20, 2013


Tanizaki: "However, I was wondering if there might be a way we can encourage an etiquette of not answering unless you're qualified/know what you are talking about."

a) What would that even look like?
b) Can you explain why you feel the current system isn't working?
posted by zarq at 7:52 AM on June 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


The most frequent answer in these legal and medical askmes is usually a suggestion to see a professional so I'm not sure this is a major problem. Also, people frequently use AskMe for emotional support and to get some perspective on their problem, which doesn't always require that the comment is written by a professional.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 7:56 AM on June 20, 2013 [13 favorites]


Yes, exactly, Foci. Askers often just want some baseline idea about a topic, or a little validation of a decision they're making or have made. It's fine to say, "the specifics vary in every location, but in general A is associated with B. You should consult a legal profession who knows the ropes in that jurisdiction." Or, you know, just not say anything!
posted by Mister_A at 8:01 AM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


I was once told that my position on something was wrong. It was something I've done for 20+ years. There were other ways to do this, but mine was not wrong. That still burns my ass every now and again and is one of the reasons I tend to barely skim askme anymore. My girlfriend had the same experience. When someone that does something professionally is told they don't know what they are talking about...in short, having a requirement that people actually have credentials won't change anything.
posted by cjorgensen at 8:04 AM on June 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


The referenced question is actually a really good example of why questions like this don't require specific legal advice. One of the most useful answers came from someone who used to work at the DMV. There were other useful answers from people who had experience going through the process.
posted by alms at 8:04 AM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


IIRC, we had a mefite who was a social worker and left here because he couldn't stand all the bad advice people were giving.
posted by Melismata at 8:05 AM on June 20, 2013 [7 favorites]


I'm not sure. There are reasonably many math questions in AskMe. Sometimes the answers are pretty bad. But there are how many mathematicians on MetaFilter -- maybe 5 that I can think of who post regularly? I'm not going to answer every one of those questions and that's still true when you multiply me by five. Better they should get approximate answers than no answers.

There are more lawyers on MetaFilter than there are mathematicians, I imagine, but as cribcage says in his comment, often the only truly informed answer is going to come from someone who is not only a lawyer but is a lawyer who practices that kind of law in that jurisdiction.

I actually think that current AskMe practice is not so bad in this respect, in the sense that I think for questions of this kind the most common answers are usually some variants on

"You should get a lawyer"
"This is what happened to me in a similar situation and this is where I got information that helped me, so perhaps it will help you"
"I am a lawyer who knows enough law to know that we can't tell you the answer to your question, so you should get a lawyer, but also here are some basic things to read so that you don't waste expensive lawyer time learning this."

Not so different from medical questions; we don't know what the rash is from your flickr photo, obviously, but I think there's some value in "I think you should go to the doctor" or "for what it's worth I had a similar rash and this is what it was."

I agree that definitively asserted answers from people who have no idea what they're talking about are bad, but I think they're a) rare and b) impossible to suppress without breaking other things about the site that I consider more important.
posted by escabeche at 8:06 AM on June 20, 2013 [7 favorites]


Worth noting that people with credentials are often wrong, also.
posted by running order squabble fest at 8:08 AM on June 20, 2013 [28 favorites]


I support this 100%. Unfortunately, I'm not sure what can be done to keep people who don't know what they're talking about from commenting. Their ignorance seems to extend to how clueless they are on the subject.

Yep, Dunning-Kruger at its finest.

“The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser men so full of doubts.” - Bertrand Russell
posted by leotrotsky at 8:08 AM on June 20, 2013 [11 favorites]


I would prefer that we make a minimal effort to state the basis for our opinions. That way the poster and future readers could distinguish between "I am a doctor specializing in exactly this area of medicine" from "My cousin once had a problem that sounds a little bit like your own."

I could imagine this even in the human relations questions. For example, "I've been married for 25 years, and most of my friends and acquaintances are in similar long-term relationships . . ." I'm more likely to credit this person's answer to a question like "How do I negotiate this chronic problem with my long-term partner?" than a question like "How do I arrange a first date with this acquaintance."

There's no way of enforcing this, but I'm going to do my best to follow my own advice when answering.
posted by ferdydurke at 8:09 AM on June 20, 2013 [10 favorites]


In my opinion, the ultimate responsibility is with the asker. No one should go online for free medical or legal or investment advice and then take any answer that seriously. People are also responsible for writing their questions so don't get answers that will backfire because of how they present their problems. A lot of legal questions, especially, sound like the person is not telling the whole story-- not to be dishonest so much as because it would take a professional to tease out the whole story.

That said, if you bring your expertise to bear in helping people be prudent and cautious you are doing a service.

(As far as not taking any answer seriously-- that includes from professionals. I come from a family of lawyers and a lot of them love giving advice in casual conversations. My dad was always telling people at parties that their drunkenly described legal problems should be no trouble to sort out. Doctors too. "Oh yeah, that shouldn't give you any trouble." It's kind of a bedside manner carried forth into social relationships. No one should take that seriously in the sense of thinking they don't need to hire someone of their own.)
posted by BibiRose at 8:09 AM on June 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


I am curious to know the thoughts of other members on this point.

My thoughts are: Welcome to the internet.

You pretty much answered your own question :

Yes, I realize the Dunning-Kruger effect suggests that I have probably broken the etiquette I am proposing.

A sitewide etiquette would only dissuade the kind of person who'd think, "Wait, I have no idea what I'm talking about. I guess probably I have nothing to add and I should just shut up."

In other words: No one at all.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 8:14 AM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Give folk a daily limit for how many AskMes they can post in. The assumption being that you can't truly have a worthwhile answer to more than a few topics in any given day.
posted by Jehan at 8:17 AM on June 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


Give folk a daily limit for how many AskMes they can post in.

But so many MFs need to be D'd A! How can you possibly make me choose!?
posted by phunniemee at 8:18 AM on June 20, 2013 [17 favorites]


As an attorney on metafilter, I frequently want to type "No, you're an idiot" and "you clearly have no interest in expending the effort and expense necessary to resolve this in the appropriate or lowest risk manner" or "in the U.S., it's nearly always true that you CAN sue and just as nearly always true that you SHOULD NOT sue" in questions involving legal problems.

But I don't because it's rude and only true on one end of the continuum that is legal reasoning in the U.S. Free legal advice on the internet (unless it comes from a highly respected legal aid organization) is largely useless for anything other than making a person feel less alone and less at the mercy of arbitrary and opaque forces. Sometimes, my impulses get the better of me and I post answers in legal questions.

Ask.me is weird and wonderful and it has evolved. With the exception of "Quick! What is this poem I half-remember?!", very few questions at ask.me have One True Answer. This is also true in the legal profession. I doubt there is any guideline or rule that ask.me can implement to help this.

Maybe it will help you to remember that we have lawyers in their offices offering very bad advice and lawyers in courtrooms not properly defending their clients' interests. At least at ask.me, no-one had to pay for bad advice.
posted by crush-onastick at 8:25 AM on June 20, 2013 [40 favorites]


I don't know that it's just legal and medical questions. There's just a whole lot of bad advice in AskMe in general. Ask a question about bedrooms and somebody will inevitably say "If it doesn't have a closet, it's not a bedroom!" which may be right somewhere, but certainly not everywhere (not in MA, at least.). It might also be right from a real estate POV, but not as far as a building inspector is concerned. My point is, there's just a lot of shitty advice in general (mixed in with some awesome advice) and it really is up to the asker to realize that and try to figure out who does and doesn't know what they're talking about.

I used to like answering questions about home wiring. I've done some home wiring, I am confident I can do it without killing myself or burning down my home. So I would say as much to people when they asked about it. Then one day I realized I was confusing "I have done this once or twice" with "I am qualified to teach someone how to do this." I don't usually answer those questions anymore.

It's easy to do that. If you've fought a traffic ticket in your state, it's easy to think you can advise someone about fighting one in their state.

Really, we all need to realize that we're not experts at things just because we've got a little experience with something. For some answers, that's fine, for others, not so much.

If you know nothing about something, It can be hard to realize when people don't really know what they're talking about. If you play the first 20 seconds of "Stairway to Heaven" on a guitar to a non-guitarist, they'll tell you you're an awesome guitar player, even if that's all you know.

Don't answer things unless you really know what you're talking about, not just when you think you do. As an asker, realize not everyone knows what they're talking about, even if they sound like they do.
posted by bondcliff at 8:32 AM on June 20, 2013 [5 favorites]


The really great thing about this problem is that even if you find someone giving unqualified and/or flat-out wrong advice, the explicity policy of MeFi is that you can't refute it.

Talk about a recipe for disaster.
posted by DU at 8:35 AM on June 20, 2013 [15 favorites]


You know, I just watched my in-laws go through a lawsuit that resulted in their losing a ton of money. (So much money. I am embarrassed to say how much money. Enough that it affects their retirement plans.) Plus, it took the better part of two years and resulted in so much stress that they both ended up taking anti-anxiety and blood pressure meds.

If they'd asked about their situation on AskMe, they might have gotten a lot of benefit from 20 or so lay people saying, "Hey, this situation is sucky, but think about it this way: Your initial gripe is over an amount of money that's relatively small compared to the sale of your house, and do you really want to get into a sticky legal fight about this?"

I know that the lawyers cringe at questions like they one they would have asked. I know the lawyers around here want to say, "You should consult a real estate lawyer in your jurisdiction," but my actual in-laws would have been better off with some perspective and emotional support. Because they got taken to the cleaners by consulting a lawyer and taking his advice.
posted by purpleclover at 8:35 AM on June 20, 2013 [19 favorites]


i think ask.me generally works well and trying to rules lawyer contributions from people who just don't know as much as (the general) you do is a recipe for shittiness.
posted by nadawi at 8:36 AM on June 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


The really great thing about this problem is that even if you find someone giving unqualified and/or flat-out wrong advice, the explicity policy of MeFi is that you can't refute it.

You left out "without also answering the question."
posted by Etrigan at 8:37 AM on June 20, 2013 [30 favorites]


Ask.me might just not be the place for you. My profession doesn't get nearly the volume of questions, and sometimes folks really are just asking for anecdotal sympathy rather than a hard and fast answer, and I tend to leave those alone.
When there is a lot of noise or bad advice I try to frame my answer with just enough authority that i'm not shouting or handwaving (I figure anyone can click on my profile where i list my occupation if they want to check) but still giving what i feel is the most appropriate course to take.
In the end you can't save people from themselves. they've come to the internet for advice from strangers. You've made a decision to buy into this and read their question and maybe answer it for free, despite the fact you could just as well be at work being paid to do nearly the same thing.
Play along if you want to , walk away if not, relax, the world will go on either way.
posted by OHenryPacey at 8:38 AM on June 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


Give folk a daily limit for how many AskMes they can post in.

I feel like this would also penalize users who aren't daily users of the site, who might be going through a couple of days of relevant AskMes at a time.

I do like it when people provide more specifics about why they're answering a question in a certain way, or what context they can give their experience, especially if it's a topic that they haven't addressed before. There are some users whose advice is usually really great, and I'll often look closely at what they've said. There are other frequent users whose thoughts really don't jibe with the way I see things, and to be honest I usually skim over their responses. Sometimes people gloss over questions and answer without looking fully at the "more inside" or previous replies. Sometimes posters leave out important information or are looking for a silver bullet for their problems when none exists and really, there's no winning there.


And that's kind of okay: none of us are perfect. We all make mistakes or we misspeak or we overgeneralize our experiences. If you post a question in AskMe, I think you realize that those answers are going to need a garnish of sea salt.
posted by jetlagaddict at 8:38 AM on June 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


the explicit policy of MeFi is that you can't refute it.

that is a long, and at times ugly, thread - one where i disagreed with the deletion - but your summary of it is not the one i came away with. it seemed more like, "refuting bad answers can't be the entirety of your answer if it's not the topic of the thread, especially if it seems likely to kick off an off-topic fight - and as always we delete things on a case by case basis and this is not a policy shift."
posted by nadawi at 8:41 AM on June 20, 2013 [19 favorites]


The most frequent answer in these legal and medical askmes is usually a suggestion to see a professional so I'm not sure this is a major problem.

I am not necessarily just talking about legal/medical issues. A common example would be when a parent asks a question about a child-rearing issue and there will be no shortage of "I have no children but I am a cool aunt/uncle so listen to this".

I do not think that there is any malice. People tend to want to be helpful, which is generally a good thing. However, the reason this man never asks for directions is that people will not hesitate to give wrong directions while displaying supreme confidence.

Can you explain why you feel the current system isn't working?

If the point of the system is to provide helpful answers, then I think some work can be done in this regard. Like I said, I am not asking for an official policy but I wonder about how it could become a social policy just as "you had better post a picture with your pet question".
posted by Tanizaki at 8:42 AM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh, just to clarify: My in-laws didn't lose their suit. It was basically a tie. The ton of money they spent was all legal fees.
posted by purpleclover at 8:42 AM on June 20, 2013


You left out "without also answering the question."

Not relevant. There are many cases where an expert can tell an answer is wrong even if they don't know the right one. If a real doctor can't come in and say "no, you do not want to treat $X with cocaine, although I don't know what the right treatment is" for instance, that's a problem. I don't know exact signing date of the Treaty of Ghent, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't 1000 BC. Etc etc etc.

The inability to filter out bad data is a huge detriment.
posted by DU at 8:51 AM on June 20, 2013 [9 favorites]


Give folk a daily limit for how many AskMes they can post in. The assumption being that you can't truly have a worthwhile answer to more than a few topics in any given day.

That would be awesome. It's probably a confirmation bias thing, but it seems to me like the general level of crufty, chatty noise in AskMe responses has gone up.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 8:53 AM on June 20, 2013


Not relevant.

Absolutely relevant. There are many ways that people can offer feedback on bad suggestions. However only some of them are okay for AskMe. I understand why people aren't pleased with that idea, but your oversimplification of that long and contentious thread is overly simple.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:53 AM on June 20, 2013 [14 favorites]


If a real doctor can't come in and say "no, you do not want to treat $X with cocaine, although I don't know what the right treatment is" for instance, that's a problem.

"No, you do not want to treat $X with cocaine -- I suggest finding a specialist in $X by asking your primary care physician or googling for $X Aid Agency in your local area."

"I don't know exact signing date of the Treaty of Ghent, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't 1000 BC."

December 24th, 1814. Took me about six seconds.

See? There's ways to be helpful and counter bad information.
posted by Etrigan at 8:55 AM on June 20, 2013 [7 favorites]


DU: Objection, irrelevant!

jessamyn: Not sustained. Bailiff, arrest DU for contempt of court.

*crowd cheers*
posted by mullacc at 8:55 AM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


There are many ways that people can offer feedback on bad suggestions.

If you know the answer is wrong, but don't know what the right answer is, what are your options, other than contacting the mods to have the wrong answer deleted (and will that actually happen)?
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 8:58 AM on June 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


However, the reason this man never asks for directions

I just learned so much.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:58 AM on June 20, 2013 [7 favorites]


I know that the lawyers cringe at questions like they one they would have asked.

I don't think any lawyer would cringe at a question like you're describing: "Here's my situation. Has anybody gone through something similar? Can you share your experiences? In hindsight, what do you wish you would have known?" That's a terrific use of AskMe. It's exactly the sort of thing your neighbors, friends, family can help with. It is qualitatively different from asking pointed legal questions.

You left out "without also answering the question."

I made that point in the pseudoscience thread, but it's worth pointing out a wrinkle here. Lawyers can't refute bad legal advice on the Internet. If you tell somebody to plead one way, and I happen to know your advice is wrong, it's very difficult for me to counter your advice without crossing a verboten ethical line. It's not about AskMe policy; it's an external problem. I'm effectively giving legal advice by doing that. Here in MeTa we can easily brainstorm circumstances where lawyers can thread that needle, but I'll tell you that in the wild, it's mostly impossible to do ethically.

Sometimes people think "IANYL/TINLA" is a magic-language bulletproof vest for lawyers. It isn't. I can polka-dot my answer with those abbreviations after every sentence, and it's of no consequence. The disciplinary committee doesn't care whether I said I was giving you legal advice. (After all: when they come knocking, of course I'm going to say I didn't.) They only care whether that's what I actually did. And for the record, this isn't merely academic. I have read legal answers on AskMe that I've considered reporting to disciplinary authorities.
posted by cribcage at 9:01 AM on June 20, 2013 [15 favorites]


I have read legal answers on AskMe that I've considered reporting to disciplinary authorities.

Why?
posted by grouse at 9:08 AM on June 20, 2013


METAFILTER: people not knowing enough to know they're not qualified
posted by philip-random at 9:08 AM on June 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Why the reading or why the considering?
posted by Mister_A at 9:08 AM on June 20, 2013


IIRC, we had a mefite who was a social worker and left here because he couldn't stand all the bad advice people were giving.
posted by Melismata at 4:05 PM on June 20


The Straightener. That whole thing went ugly. His is a voice that I miss.
posted by hydatius at 9:10 AM on June 20, 2013 [8 favorites]


I share Tanizaki's frustration, but my sense is that ultimately it's up to the Asker to do due diligence when it comes to vetting answers.

If I were to post an Ask, I would look at an Answerer's posting history as part of my basis for judging the merit of their advice.

I think many of us who spend time in Ask are aware of the handful of Answerers who tend to be, shall we say, blurters -- folks who like to pop into almost every question and fire off an answer that is often comically inappropriate, often due to not reading the Ask carefully.

I am always glad to see an expert on a subject come into a thread and contradict bad advice, but I understand how that can be an exercise in frustration.
posted by nacho fries at 9:10 AM on June 20, 2013 [10 favorites]


Yeah, I'd peg a lot of the responsibility here on the asker-- one, if you're taking as gospel some answer on a community weblog, that's kinda your own fault, and two, why the shit are you asking for legal advice on a community weblog?
posted by shakespeherian at 9:13 AM on June 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


up to the Asker to do due diligence when it comes to vetting answers

How is it really possible to perform due diligence when relevant comments that contradict previous answers are deleted unless they fit a particular form?
posted by grouse at 9:14 AM on June 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


I was recently in an ask thread where one of the responses to low sexual desire of a woman was to disallow her husband from seeing pornography. Like, from any guys perspective, this is potentially marriage ending advice. And I can't say anything in the thread because it breaks the guidelines. The no commenting on bad advice is a serious serious problem. There's all sorts of people who could have their lives ruined if they followed the advice given on this website.
posted by ishrinkmajeans at 9:17 AM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Good point, grouse.

I guess I'd look for a pattern of general dumb-assery in a poster's history, but that admittedly would take some digging. I'm not sure I'd actually be willing to get that much dirt under my fingernails just to check someone's cred.
posted by nacho fries at 9:18 AM on June 20, 2013


I was recently in an ask thread where one of the responses to low sexual desire of a woman was to disallow her husband from seeing pornography. Like, from any guys perspective, this is potentially marriage ending advice. And I can't say anything in the thread because it breaks the guidelines. The no commenting on bad advice is a serious serious problem.

There are ways to comment on bad advice that don't break the guidelines and won't get deleted. It is not a serious problem.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 9:20 AM on June 20, 2013 [18 favorites]


The trouble with the proposition to require qualifications, pedigrees or other proof of expertise is that there are some people who have never done a certain thing, but may be smarter and better readers than those who have. These people may have digested a great deal of pertinent information and, though they lack degrees or cockpit hours and can't preen over their superior experience, they may well provide a superior answer, processed with great native intelligence and presented in the clearest of terms.

These smart people, who freely offer the benefit of their erudition, may indeed offer answers that far outstrip the utility of those offered by second-rate professionals who presume that their credentials protect them from ignorance.

In fact, excellent answers from all sorts of people can be found in AskMe, right alongside the horrible ones. Appealing to our own authority is vulgar; excluding smart responders for any reason would be a shame, and a change for the worse.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 9:24 AM on June 20, 2013 [15 favorites]


Is part of the assumption of this post that the AskMe authors are idiots who cannot distinguish themselves between good and bad responses. Some of the recent criticism of AskMe on the gray seems to be along the lines of "We must protect the poor fools of AskMe from the other even bigger fools advising them who might not answer them with The Truth."
posted by aught at 9:24 AM on June 20, 2013 [15 favorites]

I feel like this would also penalize users who aren't daily users of the site, who might be going through a couple of days of relevant AskMes at a time.
That's a good point, and certainly I don't know what the details would be for any kind of limit. There needs to be an awareness of different kinds of users. But I suppose if there is already a question limit and favorite limit it's within the realms of maybehood for an answer limit.
up to the Asker to do due diligence when it comes to vetting answers
Statistically speaking, who has the highest "hit rate" for best answers compared to all answers they give? Not that best answers are always the right answers, but it would be interesting to know who gives answers that askers find useful.
posted by Jehan at 9:25 AM on June 20, 2013


I've done some home wiring, I am confident I can do it without killing myself or burning down my home. So I would say as much to people when they asked about it. Then one day I realized I was confusing "I have done this once or twice" with "I am qualified to teach someone how to do this." I don't usually answer those questions anymore.

Why? Do you think there are a lot of people on AskMe who are more qualified than you to answer this question? Your advice might not be as valuable as that of some kind of ideal omniscient handyman but it is not valueless. At the very least, you somehow got information about how to do the wiring projects you did, which means you can tell other people where that kind of information can be found.
posted by escabeche at 9:25 AM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


cribcage's advice linked in the post is absolutely correct, and as a not-now-practicing lawyer I, too, am frustrated when people post questions asking for legal advice because the best (and often only) advice qualified people can give is "get a lawyer". I think I understand and agree with Tanizaki's motivation in posting this MeTa.

Having said that, I don't know what a good, workable solution might be.
posted by gauche at 9:25 AM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


There are ways to comment on bad advice that don't break the guidelines and won't get deleted.

What are those ways? Are there good examples of refutations of bad advice people can point to? I have to say that reading the mod and community-norm statements here have left me more confused than before.

This is important to me, in that I do care about quality of answers, and do care that some mechanism for comments on comments is a desirable check on bad advice. I understand that this is a concern as it can lead to fights in ask threads, but I do feel that a well-argued rebuttal can help an asker sort through options.

What criteria are used by mods to make an assessment if a rebuttal comment is ok? I understand that these are necessarily situational and guidelines only, but I think some more clarity here would help.
posted by bonehead at 9:28 AM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


How is it really possible to perform due diligence when relevant comments that contradict previous answers are deleted unless they fit a particular form?

Well, why would due diligence need to consist solely of reading other users' reactions to advice in the same thread? If someone suggested I give my dog [Medicine X] for a problem she's been having, for instance, I'd certainly check with the vet or at least do more research on my own before dosing her up. The utility to me lies in having specific ideas as to what to look into further, not in blindly following whatever advice is given.
posted by DingoMutt at 9:29 AM on June 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


> Like, from any guys perspective, this is potentially marriage ending advice.

Any guy? Srsly?
You seem to assume a lot about other men and their attitudes towards porn. There are plenty of men who don't care for the stuff.

Basically, you seem to assume a lot.
posted by Too-Ticky at 9:29 AM on June 20, 2013 [25 favorites]


The really great thing about this problem is that even if you find someone giving unqualified and/or flat-out wrong advice, the explicity policy of MeFi is that you can't refute it.
Talk about a recipe for disaster.


This blows my mind. We are talking about a Q&A site which is, by a factor of about 100 (I'm a mathematician so that number is certifiably correct) the best such site on the internet. Have you seen Yahoo Answers, or Quora, or the Facebook version that may or may not still exist, or Ask Reddit, or....? . If I understand correctly, it's so popular that it pays for most of the rest of MetaFilter's existence. Tanizaki is completely correct that the phenomenon he points to is frustrating, but to call Ask MeFi a "disaster" seems to me wildly miscalibrated.
posted by escabeche at 9:29 AM on June 20, 2013 [20 favorites]


Is part of the assumption of this post that the AskMe authors are idiots who cannot distinguish themselves between good and bad responses.

Idiots? No, but I think it's fair to assume that people post questions because they do not know the answer. That's why I agree with those who've said that the (somewhat muddled) commenting standard for refuting bad advice should be relaxed.
posted by lalex at 9:30 AM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think that one of the problems with legal questions is that people aren't aware how jurisdiction-specific things can be. There have been some adoption questions over the years where people have stated something authoritatively (like, "the birthmother has 45 days to change her mind,"), that is not universally true because adoption is regulated at the state level and the laws vary.

I think, too, that people don't realize how much medical treatment can vary. I have a condition that can cause late-term miscarriage and stillbirth, and I was treated for it during my second pregnancy. It's an uncommon condition, but thanks to the internet I was able to connect with other women who have the same condition, and one thing that really stood out to me in our conversations was how differently our doctors managed it. It involves taking blood thinners during pregnancy, and I have not met a single woman who was on exactly the same protocol I was. Some were given blood thinners earlier or later in their pregnancy; some took them throughout their pregnancy, and some only in the first trimester. And so on.

The thing is, that as a person whose experience of this condition is as a patient, it would be really easy for me to pop into an AskMe on the subject, describe the treatment protocol I underwent with perfect accuracy, and still be wrong with regard to other women's experiences or the protocal the poster might be given.

These are things where it's not all that easy to recognize your own ignorance.
posted by not that girl at 9:30 AM on June 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Statistically speaking, who has the highest "hit rate" for best answers compared to all answers they give? Not that best answers are always the right answers, but it would be interesting to know who gives answers that askers find useful.

This is the Infodumpster link for 2012 for number of marked best answers-- is there a way to check against the number of answers per user?
posted by jetlagaddict at 9:32 AM on June 20, 2013


For example, I would not answer a question about what rock-climbing shoes are good because I do not engage in that pastime, or where to find the best barbeque in St. Louis because I have never been.

Nor do most other people, and when they do the answers can be flagged. What people actually do when they have no direct experience with the question is give an anecdotal answer. "I've never gone rock climbing, but my cousin is an avid rock climber and swears by x."

I think most people are able to differentiate between "I'm a vegan, but there was just a great review of "St. Louis BBQ Blues" in the local paper so you should try that place." and "I am the 2012 World BBQ Champion and have lived in St. Louis for 40 years. My favorite BBQ joint is "Askme's BBQ Shack" on Mefi Road in the Hammock District."

A common example would be when a parent asks a question about a child-rearing issue and there will be no shortage of "I have no children but I am a cool aunt/uncle so listen to this".

This has been suggested before, and I believe there was some disagreement with that opinion.

Legal and medical questions may need a different threshold of expertise to answer questions, but there's no reason to wave off all anecdotal answers.
posted by Room 641-A at 9:32 AM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


> I know that a rule requiring qualifications to answer would be unenforceable and probably not desirable, either. However, I was wondering if there might be a way we can encourage an etiquette of not answering unless you're qualified/know what you are talking about.

People tend to either overestimate or underestimate their qualifications to answer questions. This is an interaction-with-humans problem, not a site-specific problem.

More strongly stating on AskMe that people should "know what they're talking about" encourages rule-follower types to withhold good insight while they err on the side of caution as to whether they can justify answering. Meanwhile, those who are already confident are not going to take this as a warning to stop and objectively re-examine how relevant their credentials really are to the Asker's problem.
posted by desuetude at 9:33 AM on June 20, 2013 [6 favorites]


I was recently in an ask thread where one of the responses to low sexual desire of a woman was to disallow her husband from seeing pornography. Like, from any guys perspective, this is potentially marriage ending advice.

You know some weird guys.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:35 AM on June 20, 2013 [11 favorites]


for legal advice because the best (and often only) advice qualified people can give is "get a lawyer".

It seems that MeFi lawyers out there could at least give advice on how/where to find the right lawyer for a fair price in cases like this. Non-lawyers who've been through a similar legal issue providing their personal experience (good or bad) without giving advice doesn't seem like a bad thing to me.

There are ways to comment on bad advice that don't break the guidelines and won't get deleted.

What are those ways?


comment 1: "the birthmother has 45 days to change her mind,"

comment 2: comment 1 is actually not universally true because adoption is regulated at the state level and the laws vary. ... here is my experience ... here are resources where you can find out about how this works in your area and find a good lawyer.

Are we saying comment 2 would get deleted? I'm having a hard time believing the mods are deleting knowledgeable comments that contradict factually incorrect comments.
posted by Golden Eternity at 9:38 AM on June 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


I feel like any question where a number of people reply "you're in Lawyertown. Call a lawyer" has a reasonably clear best answer, and that's all you can really do given the format.

Can you imagine the overhead involved in having a site where people handed out effective advice over the internet? You'd want a verified qualification system, and feedback ratings, and who knows what else, and you'd still get professionals offering contradictory advice. Advice is a perilous endeavor!
posted by furiousthought at 9:38 AM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Lots of user data for 2012 in this excellent roundup from zarq. I think you have to calculate the answer:best answer ratio yourself.
posted by purpleclover at 9:38 AM on June 20, 2013


How is it really possible to perform due diligence when relevant comments that contradict previous answers are deleted unless they fit a particular form?

The only example anyone has been able to provide of advice that can't be contradicted without answering the question is cribcage's note about lawyers not being able to refute legal advice on the Internet, and even that can be answered with "Your situation is too location-specific for any of these answers to be useful; talk to a lawyer in your area who specializes in foo," without actually refuting anything.

"Fit a particular form" is overstating the case; it's not like the moderators are saying "You can only contradict previous answers if your comment does not contain the letter E," they're saying "You can only contradict previous answers if you're answering the question."
posted by Etrigan at 9:39 AM on June 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


What are those ways? Are there good examples of refutations of bad advice people can point to? I have to say that reading the mod and community-norm statements here have left me more confused than before.

Probably the best course of action is to answer as best you can in a way that provides necessary information to the OP but does not resemble an attempt to get into an argument with another answerer about the quality of their advice.

If you whiff it and your answer gets deleted, you should probably rephrase it (with feedback from the mods, if necessary) and try again before you come to MeTa with your bloody shirt in hand.
posted by prize bull octorok at 9:40 AM on June 20, 2013 [7 favorites]


Why?

Because those answers, in my estimation, crossed the line. Lawyers can provide legal information, but not legal advice, in Internet forums. This is something we discuss at ethics conferences. I can't speak for every individual state, but I can tell you that is the national standard: information versus advice.

Let's say somebody posts an AskMe question: "I'd like to learn about the crime of reckless driving in Massachusetts." As a Massachusetts lawyer, there's lots of information I can give him about the statute, how courts have treated the crime, anecdotes about other cases, evidence and strategies that might be raised, typical penalties, additional reading, etc. But if he asks instead, "I've been charged, how should I plead?", or if he details the facts of a friend's case and asks, "What do you think?"...then I'm no longer in information territory. Now I'm giving legal advice, and that's irresponsible of me: I haven't interviewed the person, I haven't asked pertinent questions, and most importantly, I haven't established a lawyer-client relationship to protect that person.

I've seen answers on AskMe that I felt crossed that line.

Is part of the assumption of this post that the AskMe authors are idiots who cannot distinguish themselves between good and bad responses.

No, it's more complicated. It might seem obvious in a MeTa discussion to say that AskMe can't provide expert advice, but anybody who reads AskMe regularly knows that many, many questions do attract expert advice. Problems are solved that way all the time. So it becomes reasonable for a person to say, "Everybody gets traffic citations, so I bet somebody can tell me what to do." In instances like that, it's useful and important to remind the person what AskMe is, and what to expect.

Honestly, I wasn't sure the moderators would agree in this particular instance. I wondered if that comment would be deleted. I shared my own anecdote to illustrate the point: If that OP had trusted some of those answers, he might have ended up in a jam that I narrowly avoided. Sometimes advice sounds authoritative and logical but isn't correct. That's worth saying aloud now and again.
posted by cribcage at 9:41 AM on June 20, 2013 [9 favorites]


You absolutely can refute bad advice in AskMe. I've done it multiple times. Some of my refutations, particularly early in my tenure here, have been deleted; I think that's been happening less, though I haven't asked the mods or anything.

You do have to be careful how you phrase it, though -- I always try to make sure that I'm talking to the asker, not the commenter. I've been successful saying things like "OP, I disagree in the strongest possible terms with the advice given above; I think that will not bring you the results you want, for reasons X, Y, and Z" or "When I was in a similar situation, I tried the method suggested by $poster above, and the results were positively catastrophic" or even "If I were in your partner's situation and my partner tried what $poster suggested, I would react in A/B/C ways, which I don't think would be constructive for your situation." Those are all ways of refuting bad advice which answer the question posted.

When I have really been red-faced and apoplectic about the miserable quality of an askme answer to the point where I'm having trouble posting anything other than "YOU ARE WRONG AND A BAD PERSON *FLAILY ARMS*", I have had good luck emailing the mod team and asking for help in constructing my refutation in a way that fits the guidelines. Whether or not that's their favorite part of the job, they have unfailingly given me good advice.
posted by KathrynT at 9:46 AM on June 20, 2013 [19 favorites]


Or what's worse, cribcage, is that in that very act of answering a few questions to this internet stranger, you HAVE formed a lawyer-client relationship, and because you never intended to offer the full capacity of legal services to this person, you gave incomplete advice, so you're on the hook for a bar complaint for practicing in a jurisdiction where you're not licensed or insured, and also potentially liable for malpractice.

Which is why we can't do that, sadly ;-(.
posted by Happydaz at 9:48 AM on June 20, 2013


A common example would be when a parent asks a question about a child-rearing issue and there will be no shortage of "I have no children but I am a cool aunt/uncle so listen to this".

This has been suggested before, and I believe there was some disagreement with that opinion.

Whoa, blast from the past! That was a good one, thanks for the flashback. Can't believe it was only two years ago.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:48 AM on June 20, 2013


Here is something I notice about the "legal advice" threads: some of the legal advice is just really, really awful. But, shit, a lot of the advice on AskMe as a whole is just really, really awful. That's part of the deal here: you pose your question to a diverse group of people, and you're often going to get a diverse set of answers. Some of those answers will be awful answers. (Of course, just because I happen to think advice is awful doesn't mean it actually is.) But getting awful advice on AskMe is a consequence of accepting anonymous advice from a worldwide group of answerers. I think people have the common sense to realize that the answers they get here are on the level of what they might expect if they asked their question at a cocktail party. Maybe they'll get an awesome answer, or maybe they'll get an answer that helps them think about their question in a different way, but they understand very well that--just like asking at a cocktail party--whatever answer they get isn't necessarily the Be All, End All of answers. It's just additional stuff for them to think about.
posted by MoonOrb at 9:49 AM on June 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


What are those ways?

I'm not really going to try to provide a list of Conversational Rules that will Always Work, for a few reasons: I'm not a moderator, and rules like that don't exist.

But here's how I approach it.

First, it helps a lot if your answer also functions as an answer to the OP's question, in addition to refuting something someone else said. This isn't even a complete given, honestly. The recent thread about a refutation being deleted had more to do with the general spirit of what was said and the general spirit of what it was in response to. The OP had said that bullshit woo answers were okay, so when a comment said nothing more than that another answer was a bullshit woo answer, it got deleted. In other circumstances, an answer that was nothing more than a refutation may have stood on its own.

There was a thread a little while ago where someone had gotten in touch with a married couple who were swingers and, in the process of setting up a potential hookup, had sent along photos of themselves (not naked sexy ones but the sort you'd find on a dating site of people generally hanging out and being happy), one of which happened to contain their child. This is a dumb idea for certain, but someone took that to mean that it was probably a secret code so they could find people who'd be willing to have sex with their toddler, and that the OP should call child protection services. I disagreed with this emphatically, and stuck that disagreement on the tail end of an actual answer to the question (which also provided a much more likely alternate scenario).

Second, you should be able to explain why the answer is wrong, and frame it in a way that is not starting an argument but which addresses the OP and basically provides them advice in the vein of the question. If someone says something you know to be wrong, you can post a comment saying something like, "I'm going to have to disagree here," and then provide the correct information. As much helpful info as you can come up with. This will also go a long way towards demonstrating why the OP should listen to you on this, and not the other person.

Third, once you've said your piece, let it be. They said their thing and you said yours and it's up to the asker to decide what they want to do with that.

The previous thread about the deleted comment was about a really specific scenario. There's this weird thing that people do sometimes, I've started thinking of it as the "Oh, so I guess that means..." reaction, where they will extrapolate a moderation decision from a specific set of circumstances to apply to every other situation and then decide that there's some new horrible standard in place. A comment was deleted for being solely a rebuttal to an answer the OP had specifically said was okay and not containing anything else that answered the OP's question, and some people saw that and said, "Oh, so I guess that means that any and all refutations of previous answers will always be deleted, no matter their content." And no, they won't. It's really about reading a room.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 9:49 AM on June 20, 2013 [15 favorites]


What are those ways? Are there good examples of refutations of bad advice people can point to?

Half the answers in any given "problem neighbor" question are refutations of the other half*.

"Leave a nice note."
"Don't leave a note, that's passive-aggressive."
"Speak to the neighbor."
"Don't speak to the neighbor. You have no idea if they will become unhinged."
"Call the police."
"Don't call the police because x.
"Don't call the police because y.

I don't think this is a problem, but there's nothing to suggest that giving a conflicting answer, even if based on nothing more than personal opinion, not to mention professional expertise, is verboten here.

*IANA Mathematician
posted by Room 641-A at 9:50 AM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


For those of you who are all concerned about getting your answers deleted if they refute something upthread, there are ways to refute bad info in a good, everyone-benefits way.

Please see this ask me where it happened for what I think is a great example of how this was done.

I believe there was a second comment in there defending the alternative medicine advice that was subsequently deleted.
posted by phunniemee at 9:51 AM on June 20, 2013


Sometimes advice sounds authoritative and logical but isn't correct. That's worth saying aloud now and again.

So true. I've read comments that are written with such disarming smoothness and confidence, I'm almost hypnotized into turning my critical thinking off. People who are good with words are capable of delivering really bad advice that sounds really good.
posted by nacho fries at 9:51 AM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yes, well it turns out that lawyers aren't well trained in explaining the motion of sun and moon.

And yet they try, anyway.
posted by notyou at 9:52 AM on June 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


You know some weird guys.

Yeah, ishrinkmajeans' interpretation is a little over the top. That said, I know exactly which question he's talking about and that answer did come out of the blue. Nothing in the question indicated in any way whatsoever that the husband looked at porn at all, much less to excess, and the answer was all like "it's your damn husband's fault for being such a porn hound!".

Everybody thinks their profession or area of knowledge is a special case and should be protected from bad answers. It's like a medieval guild system. I don't see that legal questions produce worse answers than relationship questions. If anything they produce better answers since so many of them are "see an actual lawyer".
posted by Justinian at 9:53 AM on June 20, 2013


You can only contradict previous answers if you're answering the question.

I think this needs to get mapped out a bit better. What constitutes answering the question? Raising a side issue which starts a back-and-forth is very likely to get deleted as a derail. But that still doesn't really get at the core problem, how do you talk about bad answers in a constructive helpful way?

I always try to make sure that I'm talking to the asker, not the commenter.

That sounds like a great guideline to me. "You've had some advice on X, but really, in your case Y", helps the asker more than "X is bad and poster of X should feel bad!".

I do a lot of advice-providing work, some of it in very formal contexts, and that's almost always the approach we take: what's the best thing you can say about other people's statements which will inform the person who has to decide? Sometimes that means providing counter-evidence, sometimes that's contextualizing or re-framing.

In any case, trying to serve the needs of the original question rather than simply engaging in debate feels to me to be close to the right approach.
posted by bonehead at 9:56 AM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have seen plenty of bad or unhelpful advice on AskMeFi, but overall it is one of the best resources I've found anywhere on the web. It really is a hive mind (of remarkably bright and well informed bees) here, and it seems to work the way a hive does -- some bees miss the mark, some miss the hive entirely, and some are close to but not on point, but most swarm to the right place, right quick.

I think anyone who has a professional degree, and I'm one, prefers more perfection in the answers provided, but few things in life are perfect. I'd rather this MeFi goes to traffic court with by and large good advice and tips than no resources at all.

I also think anyone who has been here any length of time knows that good as it is, AskMeFi is at its weakest in answering questions that require a professional consultation. That fact would not be improved by "requiring" that professionals be the only ones to respond to those questions. After all, we can't provide the consultation either.
posted by bearwife at 9:58 AM on June 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


I also think that there is always value in coming into a thread and saying "I am a doctor / lawyer / electrician / whatever. I can't solve your problem over the internet, but I can tell you that the scope of your problem is beyond that which Folks On The Internet can solve. I am concerned that if you take any of the advice mentioned upthread, you will make your problem much worse, possibly catastrophically so, and I would urge you to seek a qualified professional in your area with all deliberate speed."

Again, we see this all the time in AskMe and it rarely gets deleted. This idea that bad advice can't be refuted is ridiculous imho.
posted by KathrynT at 10:08 AM on June 20, 2013 [16 favorites]


Ugh. Look, I don't expect quality legal advice from AskMe. I have a lawyer. If I want quality legal advice, I'll ask him, and pay him. I have a doctor. If I want quality medical advice, I'll ask her and pay her.

What I want from a legal or medical AskMe is a quick sanity check from ordinary people. Not "plead this way to this traffic citation," but rather "You aren't likely to do worse than pleading guilty and paying by mail. Unless you have some iffy situation -- the cop already cut you a huge break, or you have one point left on your license -- going down there on your court date can sometimes help -- maybe you can talk with the states attorney, or maybe you can get the charge reduced or thrown out by the judge, or maybe you just want to ask for time to get a lawyer if it seems too intimidating." That's not perfect advice, but it's better than nothing. And often, it's even better advice than "Pay $200 to consult an attorney and another $400 for him to show up in court to fight a $260 ticket."

I understand lawyers won't like it, but there really is a middle ground between "hire an attorney" and "act randomly and hope for the best." $300 traffic citations and $500 small claims cases are right in the middle of it. If it weren't for AskMe, these people wouldn't get a lawyer, they'd just ask cousin Bob.

People depending on AskMe for serious criminal matters or large dollar suits are, of course, very much misguided.
posted by tyllwin at 10:08 AM on June 20, 2013 [9 favorites]


So here's my solution to the problem: an AskMe reputation service.

For each favorite an answer gets, award a point to each tag in that user's listing. You could represent the result as an individual value for a tag/user tuple, generate a word cloud for a user or a user cloud for a tag.

It'd have to be a third party extension because MetaFilter officially doesn't take a stand on favorites as agreement or bookmarks. And the math would have to be a bit less naive than simply adding up points; is a single 50-favorite answer equivalent to 5 10-favorite ones? Probably not.

It'd be subject to gaming as any reputation system is, it'd put more pressure to answer on identified experts than already exists & the question of expanding it to the site as a whole would be highly controversial. But limited to AskMe, it could be a net positive service.
posted by scalefree at 10:11 AM on June 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'd go as far to say that some of the most questionable advice in AskMe comes from people who feel very, very highly credentialed to answer...because they're massively projecting their own issues onto an Asker's situation even if the comparison doesn't really fit.
posted by desuetude at 10:18 AM on June 20, 2013 [9 favorites]


People are free to take or leave the free information that they get on the internet. AskMefi does not guarantee accuracy or results, and neither does (almost) any other forum.

I live almost exclusively on AskMefi, and when I answer a question it is with the assumption that the OP:

1) Can decide for themselves whether my answer is helpful or not.
2) Has the agency to disregard my advice if they don't like it.
3) Is bright enough to get a second professional opinion before making major life decisions.
4) Is responsible for their own life and decisions and doesn't see the internet as a monolith.

The assumption that if you tell someone something on the internet they're going to follow it religiously and die horribly from misinformation is a stretch. Does it happen? Yeah, probably it does sometimes, but I would say that is the black swan case.

Whenever you ask a non-professional for advice, you are taking a risk that their advice might not be accurate and is probably biased. I think it would be a bit condescending to assume that people, on the whole, don't understand this concept.
posted by Shouraku at 10:27 AM on June 20, 2013 [5 favorites]


This has come up before, but about medical advice. Try not to fall down the MeTa rabbit hole.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:32 AM on June 20, 2013


Anyone is entitled to the opinion that legal counsel is worthwhile for "serious" criminal matters and "large dollar" lawsuits but not for matters that only involve, to that person's knowledge, several hundred dollars and do not, to that person's knowledge, implicate collateral consequences. For many people in many circumstances, that opinion will prove workable. The idea that it's a blanket truism, or that its major flaw is that "lawyers won't like it," is misguided.

So here's my solution to the problem: an AskMe reputation service.

The problem is that, as Nacho Fries pointed out, being articulate is easily confused with being knowledgeable. I've seen great advice in AskMe that would serve people well, if they were willing to stumble through its knotted prose. We also have users who are lauded because they're articulate, but their advice is often...questionable.

I'd argue your proposal already exists to an unfortunate extent. When somebody opens a thread to find one or two comments marked with dozens of favorites, that looks like a community endorsement of that advice. It potentially compounds the illusion: not only is the bad/wrong advice smoothly stated, but now it's adorned with the endorsement of dozens of people who equally lack the knowledge to recognize it as bad/wrong.
posted by cribcage at 10:35 AM on June 20, 2013 [7 favorites]




my sense is that ultimately it's up to the Asker to do due diligence when it comes to vetting answers.

The problem is that if the Asker were qualified to know how to vet answers, they may not have had to answer the question.
posted by Tanizaki at 10:40 AM on June 20, 2013


Answers could be bad at times so lets implement a reputation system where the poster can be evaluated by their community standing to date rather than analyzing the answer they gave? Huh?
posted by logonym at 10:40 AM on June 20, 2013


So here's my solution to the problem: an AskMe reputation service.

That would be a totally different thing with all the liability mentioned earlier. AskMe is a forum for asking other people’s opinions, not getting professional advice. I think that’s where the confusion lies.
posted by bongo_x at 10:43 AM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Answers could be bad at times so lets implement a reputation system where the poster can be evaluated by their community standing to date rather than by an analysis of the answer they gave? Huh?

In addition to, not rather than. It'd give us an extra tool for deciding whether someone is worth listening to on a particular subject, namely their track record in answering past questions. And yeah it comes down on one side of the "what do favorites mean?" issue, which I understand is controversial to begin with.
posted by scalefree at 10:45 AM on June 20, 2013


I have read legal answers on AskMe that I've considered reporting to disciplinary authorities.

I know I shouldn't really answer legal questions here, and try to keep my answers academic and general, but knowing that someone is ready to use the nuclear option on me by reporting me for it -- never again.

No good deed and all that, I suppose.
posted by Capt. Renault at 10:47 AM on June 20, 2013 [5 favorites]


The idea that it's a blanket truism, or that its major flaw is that "lawyers won't like it," is misguided.

I don't put it forth as a blanket truism -- I put forward that on the average, for matters which seem small -- and for only as long as they seem small -- seeking and evaluating the consensus advice of fellow laymen is probably a better strategy than hiring a lawyer for every small matter which touches on the law: Should I sign the standard waiver to put my moderately-priced suit in for dry cleaning? I have a parking ticket, what should I do? The brake shop handed me a boilerplate repair agreement, what now? In all of these cases, "consult a lawyer to protect your rights" is a technically correct answer, but hardly a practical way to live. Yes, yes, in some cases, your dry cleaning may become a multi-million-dollar trial, but you can't sleep every night in a fallout shelter, just in case.
posted by tyllwin at 10:55 AM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


> Are we saying comment 2 would get deleted? I'm having a hard time believing the mods are deleting knowledgeable comments that contradict factually incorrect comments.

Of course they aren't, but there's a small, highly vocal contingent here that is deeply invested in the idea that the mods are malign entities dedicated to thwarting their own userbase and probably cackling with glee at their midnight covens over their success ("Ha ha, we got X and Y good today! We've got most of those sheep suckered with our pretense of being kindly and good-natured, but a few Very Intelligent People see through our disguise and must be crushed!"). It's like the "9/11 was an inside job" folks—there's no point arguing with them. They know what they know.
posted by languagehat at 11:00 AM on June 20, 2013 [23 favorites]


I know I shouldn't really answer legal questions here, and try to keep my answers academic and general, but knowing that someone is ready to use the nuclear option on me by reporting me for it -- never again.

I wonder how this would work in practice, though. If someone is going to get the state bar involved, he is going to need to know who the commenter is.

FWIW, I do not think I have seen much in the way of answers that cross the line into legal advice. I do find a lot of the questions are of the vein of "X just happened. I thought that was legal/illegal. Am I right?" I think that sort of question is generally just seeking legal information that anyone can give. This can be seen a lot at the county clerk's office. They can tell you, "in order to sue someone, you need to file a complaint and pay a filing fee", but they cannot tell you how to draft your complaint.

The recent question of "how should I plea?" is about a clear request for legal advice as it gets because the question is asking what should be done given a certain set of facts. The tricky thing is that the line between legal advice and legal information is a blurry one.

Perhaps the more general concern has no remedy. As has been confirmed, I have given information that was not correct because I did not recognize that I was wrong.
posted by Tanizaki at 11:08 AM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think the biggest flaw in only qualified people ought answer questions on particular subject in any internet based community is that only very closed, professionally oriented communities are going to actually vet credentials and professional standings. I mostly trust what people say their qualifications or experience is but its a trust thing. If no one but a lawyer should ever answer a legal question than there's two approaches imo.

One is to vet everybody who is a lawyer. See if they have any disciplinary action against them. Find out what jurisdiction they are licensed in, only let them answer questions from there

OR

Just ban legal questions altogether
posted by logonym at 11:08 AM on June 20, 2013


Like, from any guys perspective, this is potentially marriage ending advice. And I can't say anything in the thread because it breaks the guidelines.

I really don't understand what you are talking about here. If you answer a question in AskMe, it most likely won't be deleted.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 11:10 AM on June 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


One is to vet everybody who is a lawyer.

We can vet all the lawyers, but can we lawyer all the vets?
posted by Too-Ticky at 11:15 AM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


OR

Or we could just keep doin' what we're doing and go on living our lives.
posted by Justinian at 11:17 AM on June 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


AskMe is a forum for asking other people’s opinions, not getting professional advice. I think that’s where the confusion lies.

This, very much this.

As a casual reader, I generally assume that everyone here who claims to be a lawyer really is one. But I certainly don't know that for a fact. Any one of you could be lying. And I certainly don't know whether any of these so-called lawyers are competent. Terrible lawyers -- who give terrible advice -- do exist: I have encountered a few in real life, and none of them self-identified as incompetent. They were all quite sure they knew best.

While I've never asked a question here that touched on the law, I imagine that if I did, advice from self-professed lawyers and non-lawyers alike would be subject to the same mysterious calculus every Asker uses to determine which answers are helpful and which are noise. My ultimate evaluation might be flawed, but I accept that as a basic risk in asking anonymous strangers anything. I give other Askers the same credit for discernment that I think I have, while acknowledging that they might make errors of judgment too. Them's the breaks.

I absolutely believe in the value of expertise, and I'm grateful that people with professional experience are sharing what they know. But I don't automatically trust the opinions of pseudonymous self-claimed experts. In absence of some baroque, impossible MeFi credential system, I can't imagine things being any different.
posted by neroli at 11:18 AM on June 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


Ever hear the saying "they're not really arguing about the silverware"?

That is how some of these AskMefi questions go, they have a legal problem that's also riddled with social and relationship aspects that non-lawyers can answer for. That is why I would hate to see an endorsement of the "only lawyers can answer law questions" methodology.

Many of the problems that surface on AskMefi are multi-layered. The beauty of the system is that you have a hive of people to look at all the different facets, and the total sum of the answers can provide a whole solution.
posted by Shouraku at 11:33 AM on June 20, 2013 [5 favorites]


I look at AskMe as a way of asking a bunch of random people for an opinion on something. Maybe if I'm lucky someone knowledgeable will answer. The site is not a legal or medical reference, and should not be treated as one. You want accurate medical or legal advice, you go to a real-life lawyer or doctor.
posted by Hoopo at 11:39 AM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


That is how some of these AskMefi questions go, they have a legal problem that's also riddled with social and relationship aspects that non-lawyers can answer for. That is why I would hate to see an endorsement of the "only lawyers can answer law questions" methodology.

There was a question a while back that was one of those "My friend wants to know..." questions and it had to do with child custody and support payments. There was more than one question in the question, IYKWIM, and I (and a bunch of other people) answered the no-JD-required portion, since - speaking for myself - I have experience as a kid in that situation. I couldn't tell the poster's friend what the law said in their jurisdiction, and I couldn't tell them what the legal penalties are for not complying, but I could tell them how the similar actions of my non-custodial parent affected me. This is not uncommon in legal questions on this site.

My frustrations with "people who answer even when they don't know the answer" usually lean more towards the ones where people want to know what [this phrase] is in Latin/German/Sanskrit/Valley Girl, and there's always at least one person who starts their answer with "Well, I took one semester of [language] 20 years ago, but I think it should be...." ARGH. It's fine if you don't know how to translate something from one language into another. Please point the helpful impulse elsewhere.
posted by rtha at 11:44 AM on June 20, 2013 [6 favorites]


Red-tailed Hawks are actually mammals, not birds. They even breastfeed their (live) young. Saw it on the Discovery network.
posted by zarq at 12:02 PM on June 20, 2013


I say good day to you, sir. GOOD DAY.
posted by rtha at 12:05 PM on June 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


I don't think this is an epidemic problem, but the thing I notice the most is a very small handful of surely well-meaning members who stake out in Ask and seem to consider it their work to respond to pretty much any question possible, regardless of whether or not they have something useful or more than speculative to add. I mentally flag people who behave in this way for assignment of extra saltgrains, but others who spend less time reading AskMe might not be able to benefit from that sort of perspective.
posted by threeants at 12:12 PM on June 20, 2013 [6 favorites]


I'm not a lawyer but I recommended one in that AskMe. Traffic courts vary with jurisdiction, so really the only sound advice to someone who wants to contest a ticket is to consult an attorney that makes his/her money working cases in that court/municipality/area. Otherwise, any advice is going to be mostly anecdotal and possibly not in agreement with how that particular jurisdiction operates.

I hope no one reports me to the disciplinary panels though. Unless they're really into discipline in a kinky way, of course.
posted by planetesimal at 12:30 PM on June 20, 2013


Also, I was kind of surprised at the number of comments in this urinalysis question that recommended the OP smuggle in someone else's clean urine. I'm not really calling that out, per se, but more just wondering if that kind of sketchy advice is something that should be looked at more closely.
posted by planetesimal at 12:36 PM on June 20, 2013


a very small handful of surely well-meaning members who stake out in Ask and seem to consider it their work to respond to pretty much any question possible, regardless of whether or not they have something useful or more than speculative to add

It's mostly just one user, isn't it? That person's behavior bugs the crap out of me, but I don't know what to do except flag when it's egregious. Anyway, sorry about the derail -- just had to vent.
posted by neroli at 12:36 PM on June 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


Red-tailed Hawks are actually mammals, not birds. They even breastfeed their (live) young. Saw it on the Discovery network.

In second grade, the teacher told us penguins were mammals, as they had fur and bore their young live. True story. I have been answering AskMe questions ever since in an attempt to prove her wrong.
posted by purpleclover at 12:37 PM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don’t have a lot to say about the suggestion that reporting a professional-responsibility violation constitutes a "nuclear option." For non-lawyers reading along, I guess what I'd note is that reporting is sometimes mandatory: If you see a violation, you must report it. We don't have a blue wall, notwithstanding anybody’s implication otherwise. And violations aren’t things like showing up to a meeting an hour late or miscalculating a bill. The language typically relates only to violations that raise a substantial question as to the lawyer’s honesty or fitness. For an AskMe answer to qualify, it has to be pretty egregious.

If someone is going to get the state bar involved, he is going to need to know who the commenter is.

Anonymity is big question. Setting aside the disciplinary issue, the question relates to the topic of this thread. MetaFilter allows pseudonyms and for good reason, so I'm hesitant to imply that anybody's advice should be taken more/less seriously depending on whether their name appears in their profile. Having said that, if we limit just to a lawyer deciding whether to answer a legal-related AskMe based on his experience—knowing the line between information and advice is "blurry," as you note—then I think there’s some validity to questioning anonymity.

Somebody else commented on pseudonyms and "self-professed" lawyers, and that's a point to consider when we talk about weighing people's answers. If your name and location are in your profile, an OP can find out in thirty seconds whether you're a lawyer or not. On the other hand, there are good reasons not to post your info. Maybe your legal-related comments are given extra weight, but you're less inclined to talk openly about personal relationships or medical issues. Which is a net gain for the site: to have somebody's expertise confirmed, or to have his/her possibly valuable contributions on more delicate topics?

It's mostly just one user, isn't it?

It would be hilarious if we're all thinking of different people.
posted by cribcage at 12:39 PM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well, I am not going to wade through all the comments here before noting that a particular problem can often be solved from various angles. How people frame the "answer" or solution is often strongly biased by personal background. But that does not mean the lawyer's lawyerly answer is the only possible solution or even the best one. I think the mods do a pretty good job already of deleting things like suggested insurance fraud by a foreigner who had no understanding that was illegal in the U.S. (actual example).

There is a joke I like where a guy gets his testicles removed to resolve his chronic headaches and after the fact is told it could have been solved by a looservpair of underpants (one version). I have found that kind of thing to be all too true of experts: They give you the answer they were trained to give, which may not really be in your best interest even though it fixes the stated problem (and that brings to mind the debacle of the Aswan Dam, but I imagine no one wants the details on that). I never lawyered up during my divorce, in part because I felt lawyers would create animosity unnecessarily. I had people criticize me for that but my divorce was amicable and I am very clear that not lawyering up is part of why.

I have found a lot of good solutions exist in the world if you think outside the box. I do a lot of that. It comes with credibility problems that I do not know how to solve. But I would hate to see the value of AskMe simply killed by excessive constraint on credentialling and similar. Tanizaki, you have an overly narrow view of what is acceptable in life. We need standards, yes, but I would really hate to see them cause the site to become narrowed to the degree you seem to consistently advocate.
posted by Michele in California at 12:39 PM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


how do you talk about bad answers in a constructive helpful way?

Sorry to be late to this. Generally the rules of thumb that I use when looking at other people's answers and when trying to formulate my own are

- Am I answering the OPs general question or information need? (sometimes this is going to have to have "... as I interpreted it" at the end of it, this is where things can get tricky)
- Am I responding to the OP, or only to one of the other commenters? This is the difference between saying "User X you are wrong about that thing" And "OP, you may want to consider that many people think User X's approach is wrong because of bla bla and you might want to do a different thing instead"
- Is my comment going to start a big fight or argument on well-trodden ground because of baggage from me or other people about the topic? (you see this a lot in parenting threads)
- Has a mod already told me or others to knock off this line of discussion?
- Can I just MeMail the OP my advice instead of posting it in the thread if any of the above conditions have been met?

That is, i think it's our responsibility as answerers to help the OPs question get answered effectively and at the same time to not make their thread worse. Sometimes the way to not make it worse is to not participate. Sometimes the way to not make it worse is to MeMail the OP directly. Sometimes the way to not make it worse is to politely point out bad information in a way that is helpful to the OP. Often what makes something worse is someone deciding to chastise the OP or other commenters for their wrongness (or perceived wrongness) and not only is this incredibly self-centered, it is also often against the guidelines.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 12:42 PM on June 20, 2013


I'm terrified that cribcage is thinking of me.
posted by gauche at 12:42 PM on June 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


It would be hilarious if we're all thinking of different people.

I figure we all have to be, to some extent at least, because the person that immediately jumped to my mind is no longer posting regularly.
posted by shelleycat at 12:44 PM on June 20, 2013


They're like the Nine Unknown Men, only with knee jerk snark and facile knowledge of the subject matter.
posted by planetesimal at 12:46 PM on June 20, 2013


Allow me to play devil's advocate on behalf of the askers, for a moment.

What I would suggest the lawyers who feel the need to counteract bad legal advice do is try to expand the terse and predictable "get a lawyer"-style replies into something closer to "You should get a lawyer. Based upon what you have described, the type of lawyer you may need is one often called X, Y, or Z. Although there is much variation, in broad terms the process for 'getting' an X, Y, or Z will go roughly like this...", being sure to vague-it-up and insert however many disclaimers you need to feel comfortable.

It takes a slight amount of lateral thinking -- yes, I get it, they didn't ask "how do I find a family law attorney in my area?", not literally -- but it'd be a million times more helpful than just telling someone to go get an attorney, full stop, especially when that someone is someone asking for legal advice on the internet. If nothing else, it's far better optics for the profession than the incredibly unhelpful "I am an attorney. I am not your attorney. You need to get an attorney." I mean, seriously, you need standard and reliable phrasing to that effect, but still, seriously?
posted by hoople at 12:52 PM on June 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


It would be hilarious if we're all thinking of different people.

The Infodumpster informs me that the person with, by far, the most comments in AskMe is none other than jessamyn. So I assume everyone is talking about jessamyn.

RGH, that jessamyn!
posted by shakespeherian at 12:53 PM on June 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


Reset glitch hack? Oh I'm sorry I thought you said "RGH that, jessamyn." But whatever most of my comments are telling people to do a better job with their comments. It's okay if you're talking about me. I am a librarian and I'm also your librarian.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 12:56 PM on June 20, 2013 [9 favorites]


I think hoople is right. Or prefacing "Get a lawyer" with "There are actually a lot of legal issues involved in X that aren't necessarily obvious." It feels like there's a lot of "IAAL, IANYL, get a lawyer" or "IAAL, IANYL, but you'd be dumb to pursue this" neither of which are actually particularly helpful.
posted by hoyland at 12:57 PM on June 20, 2013


rtha: "I say good day to you, sir. GOOD DAY."

Ye gods. The bird is HUGE. What the hell have they been feeding it, housepets?
posted by zarq at 1:03 PM on June 20, 2013


AskMe is a forum for asking other people’s opinions

Of course, but an opinion is only helpful to the extent it maps to reality. If I want an opinion about a medical problem, I don't ask the guy cleaning the Slurpee machine at 7-11. Opinions can be right and opinions can be wrong.
posted by Tanizaki at 1:04 PM on June 20, 2013


Ugh. Look, I don't expect quality legal advice from AskMe. I have a lawyer. If I want quality legal advice, I'll ask him, and pay him. I have a doctor. If I want quality medical advice, I'll ask her and pay her.

People use AskMe for all sorts of bad reasons, and when those bad questions attract bad answers, I'm not really sure that's a fault of the site or insufficient policies to govern these things.
posted by deanc at 1:05 PM on June 20, 2013


"Cribcage hit the nail on the head with this recent comment: "people who have no idea what they're talking about but think posting answers on AskMe is 'fun' will now believe they have some factual basis for telling you in confident detail exactly what to do..." "

I wonder about the ||posting answers on AskMe is 'fun'|| part specifically. I lurked before I joined and realized metafilter management/leadership/ the community is oriented to being a bit serious and I'll say task oriented or on topic. I'm not complaining about that at all. But why are people who are in some members eye's lacking in expertise seen as motivated by fun?At least in that post?

What would a valid motive for participation be? To be a helper? To be an expert? To keep serious internet very serious?

I'm on disability for schizoaffective disorder. I have a lot of free time, I think what some people might not understand is that some people may answer in many threads because they have a lot of time to kill. They aren't trying to harm people. They aren't trying to have fun at the expense of real experts or those that consider themselves real experts.

" but think posting answers on AskMe is 'fun'" Those who aren't participating with at least a partial element of fun about it, why are they participating? Altruism, achieving guru ascension, honing their professional skills?

Wanting to be a part of a community, fun as in passing the time in a more pleasant way, these things make sense to me. But if fun is illegitimate than tell me what the legitimate reasons for participation are please?

And more to the main thrust of this thread are people here mostly to be experts and compare dick sizes about their expertise? Or s it to give and get from the topics that come up?
posted by logonym at 1:16 PM on June 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


I am curious to know the thoughts of other members ...

I think Kombucha is nice, especially first thing in the morning. I think if Charlie Parker were a gunslinger there'd be a whole lot of dead copycats. I think a man's gotta know his limitations. I think I think, therefore I, thinking, think I exist. And I think that in most cases a little bit of free half-assed legal advice on AskMe is probably as good or better than an equal amount of half-assed legal advice at hourly rates.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:17 PM on June 20, 2013


If I want an opinion about a medical problem, I don't ask the guy cleaning the Slurpee machine at 7-11.

You are if you’re using AskMe. You’re asking everyone in 7-11. One of them might be a doctor getting a Big Gulp, or not.
posted by bongo_x at 1:21 PM on June 20, 2013 [12 favorites]


Of course, but an opinion is only helpful to the extent it maps to reality. If I want an opinion about a medical problem, I don't ask the guy cleaning the Slurpee machine at 7-11. Opinions can be right and opinions can be wrong.


The "guy cleaning the Slurpee machine at 7-11" (or driving a taxi, or working as an attendant in a long-term care facility, or any of a number of other apparently sneerworthy jobs) may have been a fully-credentialed physician in the country he used to live in.
posted by Lexica at 1:29 PM on June 20, 2013 [12 favorites]


I think what some people might not understand is that some people may answer in many threads because they have a lot of time to kill.

And of course, the people best-equipped to answer some of the questions are probably the ones least likely to participate in a site like this, due to having other, more pressing demands upon their time, or because of professional/ethical concerns about offering advice online.

That's not a dig against the site, or its participants; it's just a recognition of the limitations built into the experience.
posted by nacho fries at 1:31 PM on June 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


an opinion is only helpful to the extent it maps to reality.

I think the problem comes when one single objective reality is presumed and with a lot of these issues I think people really want a collection of opinions that map onto people's individual realities. I realize this doesn't sit well with some people, but I think the idea that there are multiple slightly different ways of viewing the world in the present, past, and future, can be helpful to understanding a lot of interpersonal things. So, if we see an anon question in the queue that is looking straightforwardly for legal or medical advice, we won't approve it. Otherwise we rely on the community to tell people "You need to talk to your doctor" but they may also say "You need to talk to your doctor, and you should specifically mention that thing you said here about your feet because that might indicate to her a specific thing."
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:35 PM on June 20, 2013 [5 favorites]


I should also add that in my job I work with lawyers all the time. Settlement conferences, mediations, Small Claims Court, yadda yadda yadda. I feel it is important to point out that just because it's coming from a lawyer does not make it good legal advice. You would not believe some of the claims that come across my desk from lawyers who either don't know better or failed to explain the situation properly to their clients. Lawyers are not above stepping into areas they are not specialized in and/or have little knowledge or experience in.

I think Kombucha is nice

This is a bad answer and I'm starting a MeTa.
posted by Hoopo at 1:37 PM on June 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


And of course, the people best-equipped to answer some of the questions are probably the ones least likely to participate in a site like this, due to having other, more pressing demands upon their time, or because of professional/ethical concerns about offering advice online.

And the people who ask questions, simply due to selection bias, will be the ones who have the most deficiencies in problem solving, because they're coming to AskMe rather than trying to figure it out for themselves.

But even at its worst, AskMe is no different than a place where someone you're socializing with asks you about a problem they're having. People might give a range of answers touching on their experience, and ultimately (hopefully) the Asker will be nudged in the right direction, either from an answer that solves the problem or one that encourages the asker to seek out the right person to address the issue. You have to start somewhere, and for many people, that "somewhere" is AskMe, because they have nowhere else to go.
posted by deanc at 1:38 PM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


The "guy cleaning the Slurpee machine at 7-11" (or driving a taxi, or working as an attendant in a long-term care facility, or any of a number of other apparently sneerworthy jobs) may have been a fully-credentialed physician in the country he used to live in.

Perhaps, but I don't know if he just had five martinis so I had better not ask his advice.
posted by Tanizaki at 1:40 PM on June 20, 2013


lizlemoneyeroll.gif
posted by shakespeherian at 1:41 PM on June 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


And the people who ask questions, simply due to selection bias, will be the ones who have the most deficiencies in problem solving, because they're coming to AskMe rather than trying to figure it out for themselves.

My problem solving skills are way above average. I don't ask a lot of questions here, but I have found the site very helpful. This is an unusual experience for me. I usually find it pretty counterproductive to ask other people for advice or feedback. They usually tell me something worse than what I can figure out on my own.

So I can't agree with the above statement.
posted by Michele in California at 1:46 PM on June 20, 2013 [5 favorites]


I asked my doctor how to clean my Slurpee machine, and he said 'run a few bottles of margarita mix through it.' I asked him for a second opinion, and he said 'you're also ugly.'
posted by box at 1:47 PM on June 20, 2013 [9 favorites]


And the people who ask questions, simply due to selection bias, will be the ones who have the most deficiencies in problem solving, because they're coming to AskMe rather than trying to figure it out for themselves.

I'm not so sure I agree with this. There are people here with top-notch critical thinking skills -- including some who are trained problem-solvers at a very high level in their fields -- who post questions.
posted by nacho fries at 1:48 PM on June 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


And the people who ask questions, simply due to selection bias, will be the ones who have the most deficiencies in problem solving, because they're coming to AskMe rather than trying to figure it out for themselves.

I'll respond to this and wander off for a while since I don't want to be monopolizing things, but I feel that we're in "Who do you think sent the boat?" territory here. Sure, I believe there are some people with suboptimal problem-solving skills who come to AskMe because they don't know how to start managing or dealing with a problem they are having and/or they seem to be bad at making changes in their lives for whatever reason (we see this sometimes with repeat offender types). However I think for a lot of people, AskMe is one of many tools people use to try to work on problems and in some cases it may be a better tool than what people would be using if they were "trying to figure it out for themselves" (Google? Asking a friend?)

One of the things we learned early on in library school is that people with information needs, for whatever reason, usually ask friends/colleagues/family about things first even when they know they should be talking to an expert to get a better answer. That is that people prefer to know the person providing the answer as well as the answer, perhaps to help them evaluate or contextualize the answer? Consumer Reports has the best information on car purchasing (or did at the time, now it's probably Edmunds and Carfax or other things along with CR) but people base their car purchasing decisions more often than not by talking to folks. AskMe is just expanding people's collection of available folks to talk to.

But I'm not just a mod, I'm also an asker so that may be my own confirmation bias talking.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:49 PM on June 20, 2013 [5 favorites]


And the people who ask questions, simply due to selection bias, will be the ones who have the most deficiencies in problem solving, because they're coming to AskMe rather than trying to figure it out for themselves.

I don't agree with this generalization, either, because being a good problem solver is not inconsistent with soliciting other perspectives. This seems to be unnecessarily elevating the virtue of "figuring something out by yourself."
posted by MoonOrb at 1:52 PM on June 20, 2013 [6 favorites]


Well, that's the news from Lake AskMetafilter, where the relationships are fulfilling, the kittens have clever names and the problem-solving skills are above average.
posted by box at 1:54 PM on June 20, 2013 [9 favorites]


I guess I should have clarified by saying "on average" or "more than average" or whatnot. My comment was meant to be the converse of nacho fries' point that the expert answerers aren't here but rather are busy doing something other than AskMe, on average. We do have plenty of lawyers and doctors and psychologists on the site, but obviously the site is going to be have more people people puttering around online rather than doing whatever it is their expertise is in, unless that job itself involves puttering around online.

As I said, AskMe is analogous to a large room full of people whom you can ask questions to. And if you don't actually have access to a room full of people who can answer your questions, then you're going to gravitate towards AskMe.
posted by deanc at 1:56 PM on June 20, 2013


But you always have a job, well I mean, as long as you still can work that Slurpee machine, you’re pitiful ...
posted by Melismata at 1:59 PM on June 20, 2013


I believe an OP's question affects things as much as the responders' motives or qualifications.

1. What's 2 + 2?
2. When was the Magna Carta signed?
3. What do I do about my noisy neighbors?
4. Can I legally eat my dog?

Conventions for the MeFi site vary: AskMe requires a certain focus on the question not required by the gray and the blue. It's not as flexible as other aspects of the site are. (BTW I am still navigating this area.)

Refuting other comments on the green is tricky, and seems to be more successful when approached with more or less formal rhetoric, as opposed to the way one might go about commenting on topics posted on the blue. My reading is that one should give the OP the benefit of the doubt with regard to sincerity. The same courtesy should be granted the commenters. Courtesy is required, in the hopes of encouraging a certain resonance among the opinions, without actually turning the thread into a fuckyou-fest among folks with differing ideas. Right now I'm working with the idea that when a question inspires outrage in me, I can skip it.

The tricky part imagining that the poster isn't the asshole his question may seem to imply. The same theory can be applied to the commenters.

Going from the general to the specific:

Q 1&2. Even math mavens and historians can make a mistake.

Q 3. Civil interaction is often a coin toss, and we snowflakes have our uniquely constructed predispositions about how to define our personal space, and how to defend it.

Q 4. As for dog meat, the answer is yes, you can eat it, but I'm not sure you can legally kill it in every jurisdiction. But don't let me hear of you wanting to eat your cat. That's just wrong.

Also, everybody, please quit trotting out your generalities. They always turn out badly.
posted by mule98J at 1:59 PM on June 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Mister_A: “I think the dismal drumbeat of 'get a lawyer' is irritating as hell. I think the constant assumption that, if someone is asking a question that may touch in part upon legal matters, they are expecting THE ONE AND ONLY ANSWER from AskMe, and have not considered or pursued other sources of information, EVEN IF IT IS STATED IN THE QUESTION THAT OTHER SOURCES ARE IN PLAY, is insulting and contaminates the discourse with ill will. I understand that lawyers want to refrain from offering legal advice to random strangers on the internet as a matter of professional ethics, but for the love of Pete, it's not necessary to shout 'GET A LAWYER OMG YOU IDIOT WHY ARE YOU ASKING FOR ADVICE HERE' in every single question that might conceivably have some legal angle to it.”

Man, I totally agree with this. It's totally true, in my experience. I think there are a lot of professions that are large enough and comprehensive enough that people engaged in them start to develop the notion that everything in the entire universe falls within their purview or the purview of their colleagues. One of them is teaching; and I understand that, it's a field I'm interested in and (if I am lucky enough) one that I'll enter at some point in the next few years. Another is law; law touches on everything that happens in our society, so understandably it can get tempting to encourage people to seek legal counsel in nearly every situation. But there are a lot of situations that don't necessarily require that. And so it should be.
posted by koeselitz at 2:01 PM on June 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


Also, everybody, please quit trotting out your generalities. They always turn out badly.

Except "everyone needs a hug."
posted by escabeche at 2:39 PM on June 20, 2013


there are a lot of professions that are large enough and comprehensive enough that people engaged in them start to develop the notion that everything in the entire universe falls within their purview or the purview of their colleagues. One of them is teaching

Oh God you are so right about that. I have had people on Metafilter tell me it is impossible to properly teach a second language to a woman wearing a face covering like a hijab.
posted by Hoopo at 2:41 PM on June 20, 2013


Another is law; law touches on everything that happens in our society, so understandably it can get tempting to encourage people to seek legal counsel in nearly every situation. But there are a lot of situations that don't necessarily require that. And so it should be.

I'm sure that many lawyers labor under their version of the Engineer's Syndrome. Nonetheless, many otherwise intelligent people enjoy rendering thoroughly terrible commentary on legal issues, both on this site and elsewhere in the world.

The problem Tanizaki is talking about is when there is a real, immediate case for which an Asker seeks specifically legal advice. Yes, they would be making a mistake to rely on such information or advice, but we're all adults here. We don't take advantage of people who are making mistakes. We can do better than "caveat lector". It is morally blameworthy to offer legal information or legal advice when you should be reasonably aware that you do not actually know the answer to this question.

I agree that there is no sane way to vet people's literal qualifications. However, I do entirely support creating a culture in which we all agree that it is wrong to render actual legal advice when one is unqualified to do so.

...

Not "plead this way to this traffic citation," but rather "You aren't likely to do worse than pleading guilty and paying by mail. Unless you have some iffy situation -- the cop already cut you a huge break, or you have one point left on your license -- going down there on your court date can sometimes help -- maybe you can talk with the states attorney, or maybe you can get the charge reduced or thrown out by the judge, or maybe you just want to ask for time to get a lawyer if it seems too intimidating." That's not perfect advice, but it's better than nothing.

Nothing personal at all, but that advice is worse than no advice. If somebody has a seriously iffy situation, such as having only one point left on their license, then they should absolutely go see an attorney, do not pass Go, do not collect $200. You could potentially fuck them over if you induce them to do anything else. Why expose a stranger to such risk?
posted by Sticherbeast at 2:44 PM on June 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Pedantic:
There are exceptions to "everyone needs a hug." Like folks with compromised immune systems and victims of sex crimes might take issue with that. (I accept virtual hugs, not so much in person.)
posted by Michele in California at 2:46 PM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


So here's my solution to the problem: an AskMe reputation service.

For each favorite an answer gets, award a point to each tag in that user's listing.


I utterly hate this idea. I've been on multiple forums that had some kind of formal "reputation" system like this and it was annoying as hell. There's very few things i can think of that can actually have explicitly, black and white "right" answers. Inversely, there's many things that can obviously wrong answers.

The way i could see this going shit, if you can't already, is that "Super Expert Man 3000" says "Oh, i'd do this specifically like XYZ" which is one right answer. And someone else with some knowledge on the subject but little/no rep goes "ABC is also a solid solution to that" at which point a few shitty things happen.

1. The second comment gets deleted, fortunately MeFi is exempt from this via not having shitty mods(i love you guys!)
2. A bunch of people comment again going "Well i'd do something like XYZ like SEM3000 suggests, i don't know about ABC"
3. A bunch of people who don't comment, and possibly the asker ignore the second persons answer because they aren't SEM3000 with a ton of "rep".

The current system is almost 4chan-ish in the fact that everyones comments are taken on their content alone. What's being said, not whose saying it. Communities that center around who is saying stuff tend to be a lot more boring, tiresome, and cliquish than ones that center around the content. I know there's a bit of that here, but we mostly stick to the content and that's why i myself(and i'm sure many others) love this site so much. Anything that would move away from that is a shit idea.

This is why any kind of vetting system mentioned in this thread bugs the shit out of me. You can state at the beginning of the comment "These are my credentials/experience". Leave it at that.

Worth noting that people with credentials are often wrong, also.

And this is my biggest issue with the entire thread. I get that the debate is mostly over the average quality of advice you'd potentially be receiving, but to me "I'm an expert in foobotz, I'd do A, B, or C" has essentially the same value to me as someone going "I've dealt with foobotz several times, and i consistently had a shitty experience doing A and C, i'd only do B in the future"

These are both examples, but both valuable responses. Somehow giving response type 1 preference over 2 would decrease the quality of Ask.

I would say if anything was to be done to improve the quality of Ask in the way you(and to an extent, I) desire Tanizaki, it would be for them to relax the rules a bit on refuting shitty answers. There should be some very clear "If you want to contest an answer or provide addition info, please try and still answer the question" type of rule.

The reason for this is that the Asker, who i agree is supposed to weigh the quality of the responses on their own may not have all the information they need to judge them and come to a conclusion therein.

What i propose is something along the lines of "You can refute answers, but you must provide some kind of information. Links are best" kind of thing.
posted by emptythought at 2:55 PM on June 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


What i propose is something along the lines of "You can refute answers, but you must provide some kind of information. Links are best" kind of thing.

I think the disconnect here is occurring because many people, including myself, believe that refuting answers in and of itself provides a valid piece of information.
posted by lalex at 3:25 PM on June 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


b) Can you explain why you feel the current system isn't working?

"...These folks' participation on the site far outstrips their actual fields of knowledge, they're not really helping anybody notwithstanding the fun they have, and they potentially cause harm in instances like this one if you, the OP, aren't careful to remember that free advice is worth what you paid."

Doesn't this quote listed in the original post kind of indicate why the poster feels the current system isn't working?

c) Don't you feel the questions you asked are just a veiled way to make a point, even though the answers are already given in the original post?
posted by bquarters at 3:33 PM on June 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Re the ideas about a reputation system:
I have no idea what the phenomenon is called or how to google research related to it, but I will add that it is a known phenomenon that gushing at someone over and over about how awesome they are actively turns them into assholes who give terrible advice. It damages their critical thinking skills and puffs up their ego. It removes any system of psychological or social checks and balances.

I am vehemently against promoting that. I have been that asshole in other places who got gushed at so much and surrounded by ass-kissers and could not figure out how to fix the problem because sycophants are useless for helping you course correct. Actually, they are worse than useless. They are an active hindrance to fixing the problem.

I hated being that person and it has made me somewhat sympathetic when "popular" people on forums are just jackasses because I feel strongly it isn't simply "their fault." It is largely a product of a warped/warping social climate. I am actively against policies which help create/worsen such a climate (we probably can't entirely escape this human tendency but we can absolutely "put out the fire with gasoline.")
posted by Michele in California at 3:33 PM on June 20, 2013 [6 favorites]


Doesn't this quote listed in the original post kind of indicate why the poster feels the current system isn't working?

Sorry, my fault. I should have been clearer. Was looking for actual examples across different AskMe categories, because vague assertions are kind of useless if we're trying to identify whether this is a problem or not.

I'm not a "power user" over there but my sense has always been that AskMe works reasonably well and on most subjects is far superior to the available alternatives. In fact, I suspect that one of the reasons for that is people aren't being presented as "experts" on a topic the way they are on Quora. This helps preclude people's egos from getting in the way of their offering assistance. We offer a level playing field. It's up to the people answering the question to provide convincing answers, as opposed to people being asked to take the community's word that their answers should automatically be given more weight, no questions asked.

When I weigh in on questions as a professional or offer advice based on my business experience, I make that clear. If the OP chooses to follow my advice then that's their business, not mine. I'm not responsible for showing them the One True Way or live their lives for them, and neither is anyone else. We're offering a hive mind service. Sometimes, that will mean people will get good and/or bad advice. I think that's okay. The OP can make their own decisions. And hey, there are times when a question needs an actual expert to weigh in on a topic and others that are best answered by people who have been through a similar situation, who simply talk about their experiences. Still others where the answers given are fantastic, but not what was expected by the person asking. We recently had a MeTa post about that.
posted by zarq at 3:55 PM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also:

bquarters: " c) Don't you feel the questions you asked are just a veiled way to make a point, even though the answers are already given in the original post?"

I'm not a subtle guy. Generally if I want to make a point, I'll just do it. If I ask questions I'm usually just looking for answers or clarity.
posted by zarq at 3:57 PM on June 20, 2013


Looking upthread the question I asked of tanizaki is not the one I wanted answered. Definitely should have asked it differently.
posted by zarq at 4:05 PM on June 20, 2013


I think the disconnect here is occurring because many people, including myself, believe that refuting answers in and of itself provides a valid piece of information.

I think the problem is that the information it provides is "somebody on the Internet (who may claim to be an expert) disagrees with somebody else on the Internet" - hence the suggestion to provide links that demonstrate that your counsel is wise (and by extension that the other counsel is unwise).

The problem with this in a legal question, I guess, is the prohibition on providing legal advice - it's hard to point to precedent without it looking like legal advice. Whereas you probably can't usually go too far wrong with "I really very strongly advise you not to eat that, because of [link to wikipedia page for "maggot']", for example...
posted by running order squabble fest at 4:22 PM on June 20, 2013


I'm sure someone with coding skills could have done this more quickly and elegantly, but I took two separate dumps from the infodumpster--users with at least 50 AskMe comments in 2012, and users with at least 10 Best Answers for 2012, and eliminated all those users with 50 comments but less than 10 best answers (quite a few--at least 1/2 of those from the first list) and eliminated all users with 10 best answers but fewer than 50 answers (quite few, maybe 20 total). I then calculated best answers/total answers *100, so that a theoretical answerer who had 100 answers and 100 best answers would have a score of 100, and an answerer with 100 answers and 1 best would have a score of 1. So, scale of 1 to 100, with 100 being the best.

And the winner is...
RichardP! RichardP had 97 answers in 2012, and 31 marked as best, for a final score of nearly 32. Nothlit and needled were in a very close race for 2nd and 3rd, with scores of 27.77 and 27.72 respectively. The rest of the top 10 are: ManyLeggedCreature, verstegan, rumposinc, Balonious Assault, misteraitch, zsazsa, and ourobouros. A total of 33 users had scores above 20. The median score is ~9.9.

The highest score for an answerer with 500+ answers was holgate, with a score of 16.5, ranking 96th out of 864 users who met the criteria. There are no Supermega answerers (1000+ comments) in the top half of scores, but nor are their scores particularly abysmal (in the 7-9 range).

On the low end of the scale, there were a (very small) handful of users with 250+ answers and yet fewer than 10 best answers, and I will not name names. There were a lot of answerers in the lower end of the ranks (scores of 2-5 or so) who are, imho and nevertheless, conscientious frequent answerers.

I'm not sure if this is a particularly useful metric, as I'm not sure that all question types/categories are as likely to produce marked "best answers."
posted by drlith at 4:47 PM on June 20, 2013 [6 favorites]


Nobody can more forcefully make the case for getting a lawyer than someone who should have gotten a lawyer.

But then again most questions in lifes (sic) rich pageant would be optimally answered with "DTMFA" or "get a lawyer" or "get the cops" or "go to a doctor now" or "dont eat it." I note AskMe has a detectable bias toward respecting authority and toward projecting worst case scenarios and least charitable readings of ambiguous questions, though of course the opposite impulses are present and voiced (you probably don't have an std!).

There's something about answering a strangers's serious question that brings out the paternalistic/materialistic and doomsayers sides in many of us, I think.
posted by spitbull at 4:49 PM on June 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Nowhere is that respect for professional authority more evident than the drumbeat of "get therapy" advice, by the way, which far exceeds the prevalence of "get a lawyer" advice. The empirical basis for asserting the efficacy of psychotherapy is a lot more disputed even among the knowledgeable these days than you'd ever know from AskMe.

I'm not saying it isn't often great advice, just noticing something about the culture of the place.

Luckily we have plenty of naysayers too. But they tend to be less in evidence on AskMe, perhaps for obvious reasons towards which the unusualness of this MeTa points.
posted by spitbull at 4:55 PM on June 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


I think the disconnect here is occurring because many people, including myself, believe that refuting answers in and of itself provides a valid piece of information.

I agree with this as well actually, especially after thinking on it some more.

The reason i framed that the way i did though was because rules-lawyering types would simply want to argue with people and would then go "but it says you can refute answers!"

I was trying to come up with a rule that could actually be implemented, a line in the sand for challenging answers. The more i look at it though, the more i realize it's always going to be a grey area "i know it when i see it" thing.
posted by emptythought at 5:02 PM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure if this is a particularly useful metric, as I'm not sure that all question types/categories are as likely to produce marked "best answers."

I’m not sure it’s useful at all if you’re judging the expertise of the answerer; the questioner is judging the answers. It just says they got an answer they liked, not how good it was.
posted by bongo_x at 5:24 PM on June 20, 2013 [7 favorites]


The current system is almost 4chan-ish in the fact that everyones comments are taken on their content alone.

Yeah that's not true. One of the things that makes MeFi special is its social cohesiveness. We have tons of embedded knowledge about each other. I'm not big on AskMe but there are many usernames I'd recognize as experts or knowledgeable in a variety of fields. I understand that a reputation service would shift the balance further in that direction but if comments were taken by content alone we'd really be Anonymous. I'm just looking to further leverage the implicit knowledge we already hold, to give us a new tool that helps us make better decisions.
posted by scalefree at 5:56 PM on June 20, 2013


I'm not sure if this is a particularly useful metric, as I'm not sure that all question types/categories are as likely to produce marked "best answers."

Notably, anon questions never get best answers.
posted by purpleclover at 5:58 PM on June 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Nowhere is that respect for professional authority more evident than the drumbeat of "get therapy" advice, by the way, which far exceeds the prevalence of "get a lawyer" advice. The empirical basis for asserting the efficacy of psychotherapy is a lot more disputed even among the knowledgeable these days than you'd ever know from AskMe.

Much of the "get therapy" advice is offered to askers who seem to really need a real live person to talk to in a safe environment, not necessarily because they have some kind of psychosis.

Since we can't assume that all people have access to a knowledgeable and willing friend or family member, you get a chorus of "get therapy."
posted by Shouraku at 6:09 PM on June 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


My point exactly! It's a default deference to the proposition that AskMe isn't going to be able to solve your immediate problem.
posted by spitbull at 6:47 PM on June 20, 2013


It's a default deference to the proposition that AskMe isn't going to be able to solve your immediate problem.

I think there's a certain class of problem for which it is basically true that AskMe can't solve it. AskMe can provide anecdotes and alternate framings, but it's not designed for the sort of in-depth, back-and-forth digging that emotional problems often require. I think it's not always a tremendously useful answer, but I think there is some value in telling people it is allowed to get professional help when they are at the point of asking the internet about problems the internet really can't fix.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 7:08 PM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


spitbull: "Nowhere is that respect for professional authority more evident than the drumbeat of "get therapy" advice, by the way, which far exceeds the prevalence of "get a lawyer" advice. The empirical basis for asserting the efficacy of psychotherapy is a lot more disputed even among the knowledgeable these days than you'd ever know from AskMe.

I'm not saying it isn't often great advice, just noticing something about the culture of the place."


Speaking personally, I've found substantial value in that part of the culture; seeing so many intelligent, thoughtful, and articulate people who I respect talk about how therapy has helped them through difficult things in their lives convinced me to try it again when I otherwise would not have, and I would think there are others who have been helped by it as well.

(Full disclosure: I've still yet to find a therapist I work well with, but even just knowing that therapy is a thing that really actually helps people and is an option to try again with is useful in itself.)
posted by beryllium at 7:22 PM on June 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Re therapy:

Getting a life did more good for me than therapy but therapy was a necessary intermediary step before that could happen. Also, there is this neat thing I have heard of called The Internet where you can talk to people from all over the world day or night. It is filled with fascinating people who have had wildly different experiences from mine. Some of them will talk to me just cuz I will talk to them. It has also helped me more than therapy ever did.

Back on topic.
posted by Michele in California at 7:43 PM on June 20, 2013


Don't get me started on how often people cite that creepy "The Five Love Languages" book as if it were peer-reviewed science or something. Ewww.
posted by nacho fries at 8:32 PM on June 20, 2013 [5 favorites]


"The Five Love Languages" has actually helped me tremendously with my interpersonal relationships.

Now, if people believe that it's made of The Science, or that all people can be put into five distinct groups, yeah that's a problem. But like any relationship advice, you take what works and dump the rest.
posted by Shouraku at 9:11 PM on June 20, 2013


Yeah that's not true. One of the things that makes MeFi special is its social cohesiveness. We have tons of embedded knowledge about each other. I'm not big on AskMe but there are many usernames I'd recognize as experts or knowledgeable in a variety of fields. I understand that a reputation service would shift the balance further in that direction but if comments were taken by content alone we'd really be Anonymous. I'm just looking to further leverage the implicit knowledge we already hold, to give us a new tool that helps us make better decisions.

My main point with this is to a new-ish person here, they won't recognize any of the names. And this isn't one of those forums/BBs/etc like many others that have "22,000 posts +7432 reputation *****" next to someones name along with the join date next to every post.. Sure you can click through to their profile and get to a bit of info like that, but the fact that all you see is text, a name, and a time really adds to what i'm getting at here.

Everyones advice sits on the page as equal. If you know some of the people as regulars or having specific knowledge or expertise in certain area(s) then great. But it isn't like a major component of how the site works, and that's a good thing.

I know it's part of it for some of us regulars, but many Ask questions are posted by new people, or people who don't use Ask, a lot, etc.

Don't get me started on how often people cite that creepy "The Five Love Languages" book as if it were peer-reviewed science or something. Ewww.

That and how somehow Dan Savage is still seen as a worthwhile person, or source of advice/good writing/anything. The love languages thing is almost up there with some of the evolutionary psychology "men are like THIS, women are like THIS" crap though.

The fact that it causes some people to have epiphanies about how they're handling their interpersonal relationships is a side effect, similar to huffing chemicals making you high. It's still toxic crap.

And yes, there are plenty of people who approach that stuff like it's the New Testament and that you really can categorize people. A lot of folks really desperately seem to want to come up with some Perfect System™ by which they can treat people like various types of computers to be provided with specific input and get predictable results. And a large, tiresome, a bit dangerous(see the FPP about PUA stuff currently blasting along through space) complex has built up around various people who have found The Way or The System selling their primas ultimate strategy guide to the human brain, or human mating or whatever.

did i drink too much black tea?
posted by emptythought at 9:53 PM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


So...some people take books/columnists/forums too seriously while on the search for a Simple Answer that Solves All?

Sorry, but I don't think that's a problem AskMefi can fix. I recommend therapy.

Also, black tea is delicious! I am so jealous.
posted by Shouraku at 10:05 PM on June 20, 2013


Heh, i wasn't implying that it was, more just that i completely understand nacho fries(and mine, and others) tiredness in that sort of thing.

And yea, it was particularly delicious tea too. Some really nice loose-leaf stuff my partner got as a gift around christmas...
posted by emptythought at 10:08 PM on June 20, 2013


Dan Savage. Oh boy, he sure has people fooled.
posted by nacho fries at 10:09 PM on June 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


The easiest and best solution to the problem of bad advice on AskMeta is not to read any of the other answers before you post your own. Sometimes it's a good idea not to read the question either.
posted by Nomyte at 1:21 AM on June 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Dan Savage. Oh boy, he sure has people fooled.

Since I can only favorite this once.

Dan Savage's free advice fucked up my life for ~1 year.
posted by peacrow at 6:25 AM on June 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Dan Savage's free advice fucked up my life for ~1 year.

Please forgive me for being unduly personal, but would you mind describing what his bad advice was in that instance?

And yes, I am baffled as to why people think he is Yoda.
posted by Tanizaki at 6:40 AM on June 21, 2013


Nothing personal at all, but that advice is worse than no advice. If somebody has a seriously iffy situation, such as having only one point left on their license, then they should absolutely go see an attorney

No offense taken, but I think you were misreading me. I was trying to say pretty much exactly that: that people in those iffy circumstances were the ones who needed to hire a lawyer for a traffic ticket, when others might not. In fact, I very forcefully gave your exact advice to a family member IRL recently, and hiring a lawyer worked out very well.
posted by tyllwin at 7:00 AM on June 21, 2013


I can't speak to the law threads. My major frustration is in medical threads, where there's often a response that appears to be rigorous because of the field-specific jargon and even the inclusion of citations, but which actually turns out to be very speculative if you dig deeper. This kind of Pubmed-skimming is great for coming up with hypotheses, but isn't appropriate for giving advice to a person on how they should think about (much less treat) their problem. I've bitched about this before in different contexts.
posted by en forme de poire at 7:07 AM on June 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


No offense taken, but I think you were misreading me. I was trying to say pretty much exactly that: that people in those iffy circumstances were the ones who needed to hire a lawyer for a traffic ticket, when others might not. In fact, I very forcefully gave your exact advice to a family member IRL recently, and hiring a lawyer worked out very well.

Thanks for the response. I'm glad that you meant the right thing.

However, because these sorts of answers are exactly what this MeTa is about, I'm going go further than I normally would and break down why I think your answer was problematic:

Unless you have some iffy situation -- the cop already cut you a huge break, or you have one point left on your license -- going down there on your court date can sometimes help -- maybe you can talk with the states attorney, or maybe you can get the charge reduced or thrown out by the judge, or maybe you just want to ask for time to get a lawyer if it seems too intimidating.

This sentence reads to me as listing several, unranked, sometimes mutually incompatible alternative courses of action which one can perform in the event that there is such an iffy situation. The only solution even somewhat worth trying is all the way at the end.

The closest any of these courses of action comes to getting an attorney is "maybe" asking the judge for time to get a lawyer. This is at the end of the list, too, when it should be the first. Even then, it's still not quite on-point. This person should just consult a lawyer. You don't need to ask anyone's permission to do this. The lawyer will know best what to do next, including how to ask for more time, if that's even necessary.

Going down there on your court date by yourself could be absolutely disastrous. I would only suggest this to someone whom I despised and wished harm upon. However, this is suggested first. The same goes for talking to opposing counsel or trying to persuade the judge to do one thing or another. Yes, if this is only about $300, then the cost/benefit analysis might come out a different way, but if we're talking about license suspension, then it's not a stretch to speak of disaster.

Am I misreading you when I think that you're saying that these things are credible options, whether or not you actually have an attorney? If that's what you had meant, then that is not good advice, even though I know you mean no harm and are an intelligent person with a life of your own. If that is not what you had meant, then you should please be more clear. Pretty much everything other than "get an attorney" is technically superfluous - any decent lawyer will know exactly what to do or not to do. The blur of extraneous detail can obscure your intended meaning.

If you think extra detail is better salesmanship for the "getting an attorney" idea, then maybe consider such phrasing as, "I'm sorry, but for this kind of thing, only a qualified attorney in the relevant jurisdiction can give you advice. The MeFi Wiki has a good section on now to find an attorney, if you don't already have one or know where to get one. Secure representation as soon as possible. I know that nobody relishes the prospect of having to hire an attorney, especially over a traffic ticket, but they may be able to help you avoid suspension. If you need your driver's license, then the cost will be worth it. Until then, don't even think about trying to represent yourself - it's all too easy to accidentally fall into a point of no return. Best of luck!"

Again, nothing personal! I feel strongly that people should not be giving anything even vaguely resembling legal advice over the interbutts, but I also know that 99.9999% of people are only trying to give good, helpful advice about difficult situations. The problem is that bad legal advice is insidiously easy to give and easy to accept.

...

For a casual medical question about a non-emergency, such as "I have lots of gas, can you please suggest some remedies", it's easy to give nonexpert advice. Gas is gas, and bodies are bodies. There are lots of different things you can try, and if you try one thing, it almost never means that you can't try something else later. Many solutions will be imperfect, but they may still help a little, or they may be merely ineffective, but otherwise harmless. At the end of the day, if your problem persists or worsens, you can go to the doctor.

The problem with legal questions is that they don't quite work this way. Being basically right is often no better than being exactly wrong. Also, there are jurisdiction-specific issues, and places where you may hit a point of no return. So, now imagine the gas question again, except that some answers only work in the Northeast, or trying those same answers outside of the Northeast will make your butt literally fall off, or that trying method ABC means that you can never try method XYZ.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:17 AM on June 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Sticherbeast, I'd take it to memail now, except that I think you and I illustrate yet another pitfall worth noting -- that over the Internet, the advice may be a little unclear. In this case, what I was saying is that if you have special issues like a license in jeopardy, you need a lawyer. There's no substitute for that. Iffy = lawyer.

If, on the other hand, you have no special circumstances, and are basically just deciding whether or not to plead guilty by mail and pay your fine, or to go down to the courthouse, these may be credible options, since I've had success with them in the past. That I seem to have trouble communicating this is maybe a good reason to take my advice with a grain of salt.
posted by tyllwin at 8:50 AM on June 21, 2013


Don't get me started on how often people cite that creepy "The Five Love Languages" book as if it were peer-reviewed science or something. Ewww.

I haven't read the actual book so maybe it's way better than I'm assuming, but God, the way it sometimes gets used in Ask drives me crazy. "It sounds to me like your Love Language is Words of Affirmation, and your partner's Love Language is Nailing Puppies to Trees. Those are both totally valid ways to express affection, so you two need to go talk to a therapist to work out how to get both your needs met!"
posted by Catseye at 9:23 AM on June 21, 2013 [10 favorites]


I read the actual book more than 15 years ago and it wasn't terrible. It turned out to have very little utility in my relationship, but I can see how it could be very valuable for some folks and understand why it can be a nice thing to have in your toolbox when you're trying to work through disagreements with your partner. It reminds me a little bit of Myers-Briggs type stuff, in that every now and then it provides real insight into relationship friction and a common vocabulary for how to discuss it.
posted by MoonOrb at 9:33 AM on June 21, 2013


The notion that valuable perspective can only be offered by "experts" is far more disturbing to me than the existence of questionable advice. Personally, I find the overwhelming refrain of "Go see a doctor / lawyer / therapist / police / etc. IMMEDIATELY" seriously irritating in that it implies everyone must rely on the so-called experts to solve all of our problems - we're just not capable of thinking critically and handling matters for ourselves.

Yes, clearly, sometimes an expert's opinion is warranted and valuable. But the experts are not infallible and expert advice is not a panacea for all ills (medical or otherwise). AskMe is the quintessential caveat emptor situation and the onus is on the Asker to navigate the advice given there accordingly.
posted by hapax_legomenon at 9:35 AM on June 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


My major frustration is in medical threads, where there's often a response that appears to be rigorous because of the field-specific jargon and even the inclusion of citations, but which actually turns out to be very speculative if you dig deeper.

And then there was that long, very detailed post that explained neuroscience, introversion, the autism spectrum, and all the different personality types. It was basically Metafilter catnip and immediately got hundreds of favorites and was side barred. It took the efforts of several users to protest that the entire thing was a nonsensical, academic-sounding boondoggle.
posted by Nomyte at 9:38 AM on June 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


I would like to add on to this meta by asking folks who know nothing about music to stop recommending Elton johns "Rocketman" in every music suggestion thread. There are other songs. At least 3. There's "Disco Inferno" and I forget the other two.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:00 AM on June 21, 2013 [7 favorites]


"Don't Stop Believing" and "Radar Love", I think.
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:21 AM on June 21, 2013 [7 favorites]


If we are truly worried about Dangerous Advice, I suppose adding a flag for that might be a better solution than trying to credential a bunch of random internet commenters.

I've seen good advice, advice I disagreed with, and random unrelated rants come up as answers in AskMe, but I always thought that's just what you must expect when you ask a group of strangers for their opinion. No different than walking down the street and asking them. I think we're all grown-up enough to be able to sort the wheat from the chaff, or at least pick the answer that makes the most sense to us. Most people ignore the advice they are given, or already know what they're going to do anyway, don't they? Unless it's very specific, like "How do I make this computer program do this thing it won't do."

But I've always assumed that no matter how many people tell you to D the MFA, you won't do it until you're ready, and no matter what people tell you to do about little Quinoa's night terrors, you'll end up doing what you decide is best.
posted by emjaybee at 11:37 AM on June 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't think this can ever happen. You have to assume that anybody who follows bad Internet advice would have made some other mistake anyway.

I'm glad to work in a field where the casualties are only marketing budget overages and slow websites.
posted by michaelh at 11:46 AM on June 21, 2013


... obviously the site is going to be have more people people puttering around online rather than doing whatever it is their expertise is in, unless that job itself involves puttering around online.

Probably my best moment at work or on Metafilter happened the other day when I was reading the NSA thread. My boss walked into my office, I quickly switched tabs, and he said "I'm going to be on TV this evening and they might ask me about this NSA thing. Can you figure out what's going on with that?"
posted by jhc at 12:02 PM on June 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


everyone must rely on the so-called experts to solve all of our problems

And now, a word on "so-called experts".

They are not "so-called experts". They are actual experts. Experts do not claim to be able to "solve all of your problems" or to be inerrant. However, an expert is your best bet to solve a problem in that expert's field of expertise. If I need a termite treatment for my home, I don't call a barber or a physician but an exterminator with the requisite expertise and experience to deal with the issue.

The experts do not know everything, but they do know more about their field of expertise than most people (such as you and me), particularly people who have just done some Googling in their spare time.

Guess what else? Once you become an expert, you have to work to stay an expert. Do you think a mechanic who stopped his trade in 1985 would be equipped to fix a Prius today? If a doctor never bothered to learn any more medicine after his final round of licensing exams, his career would be very short indeed, perhaps ended by a malpractice suit. "Use it or lose it" is true. They are just fancy-pants people who rest on their laurels after getting a degree or other qualification - they spend a lot of their time, effort, and money to keep and hone those skills.
posted by Tanizaki at 12:07 PM on June 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


You might want to add what I think is a missing "not" in your last sentence before the edit window dies.
posted by Michele in California at 12:10 PM on June 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


If I go to a chiropractor they will tell me as an expert in their field they know I need to get one year of treatment and continually check my spine to maintain spinal health forever. If I go to a homeopath they will tell me that as an expert in their field they know whether and how homeopathy works better than me. If I go to a psychiatrist they will tell me that I definately need to be on medications. If go to a somatic experiencing practitioner they will tell me I might use meds if needed but that I can likely attain better health through other methods.

Experts can be extremely useful but they have limitations DUE to the biases of their profession and their financial and ego ties to their profession being necessary and correct.

This kind of community is really useful at asking what KIND of professional might be best and for others personal experiences using a variety of different experts help. I've you've been getting massages to heal your shingles pain because you have a wonky professional who made up it will clear the toxic virus and their expertise is better than yours, a quick check with any other real professional would clear that up.

But it can be hard sorting through a sea of professionals who all think their way is really truly the right way, many with more or less (or NO) science/fact backing them up.

Also sometimes you have a legal or medical problem and no money and it's nice to hear some ideas since paying for services, despite being the best option, is not available.
posted by xarnop at 1:32 PM on June 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


You might want to add what I think is a missing "not" in your last sentence before the edit window dies.

You are correct. It should read, "They are *not* just fancy-pants people". I lost my edit window, which makes me emo.
posted by Tanizaki at 1:38 PM on June 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


An emo Tanizaki. That's quite giggle-worthy.

(You do know I am not one of your haters, right?)
posted by Michele in California at 2:26 PM on June 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


This conversation began with law. It has covered other fields, sure, because there are a lot of parallels and because the issue relative to AskMe is definitely bigger than just legal questions. But throwing homeopathy into the mix of "experts" is straying a bit far from the topic. We're talking about actual expertise—acknowledged and, particularly, licensed by society. I'll grant that anybody can spend Gladwell's 10,000 hours at their public library and become an "expert" on anything from homeopathy to Matchbox cars, but that isn't the type of expert answer that poses any type of complexity or trickiness on AskMe.
posted by cribcage at 2:35 PM on June 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


cribcage- I totally agree that some professions are more legitimate than others but having a community like this can help people get feedback from people outside that profession so they aren't ONLY asking experts in the field whether it's a legitimate field or what the controversies in that field are (many fields are controversial in themselves or have many controversies within them).

I personally think experts in a field certainly should be heard over someone who has no idea but most experts AREN'T willing to share their advice for free- so mostly a community like this is more likely to be for questions that aren't specifically for the expert themselves.

An example would be needing to talk to a lawyer but not having money and needing advice about how to get some legal advice. But I agree if you have money you should consult with an expert. Sometimes experts are wrong though and I've seen many questions where a person states they got bad advice from an expert and this community is a place where people can find out that advice may be be bad or not working for them and to follow their guts about looking for a different expert to talk to or a different type of experts. Also sometimes their question is more in the personal realm and not the sort of thing that type of expert would help with, or they might not know they CAN bring that up with the expert.

I agree there are real hazards of people getting bad advice on the internet and that truly bad advice happens on askme and that experts words, to me, are extremely valuable if ever an expert turns up on a subject whether on the green or the blue- I feel it's a great treasure, but there's only so much you can do about people's willingness to follow bad advice and still have a free advice community.

I actually agree with the recommendation of the OP here though, that people should try to refrain if they have no knowledge of the subject or limited knowledge of the subject. The closest legal advice I've ever given is for someone to get a lawyer and get some legal advice. That's as much as I'll ever do (although the advice to cover your butt by using good behavior, refusing to give fuel to anyone else you might have a legal issues with etc is usually pretty good)
posted by xarnop at 3:12 PM on June 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


asking folks who know nothing about music

!
posted by spitbull at 3:29 PM on June 21, 2013


There's a line in one of Anne Lamott's books I've always loved: something like, "When your wife locks you out of the house, you don't have a problem with your door."

Experts are great, but they often tend to see the world through their expertise. I'm sure there are locksmiths here who would have a lot of professional advice to give to someone whose wife locked him out of the house. But I'm glad that there are also "non-experts" who might be able to see the question in another way.
posted by neroli at 3:37 PM on June 21, 2013 [12 favorites]


everyone must rely on the so-called experts to solve all of our problems

Did you... did you just quote Sarah Palin?
posted by elizardbits at 4:47 PM on June 21, 2013


The other thing, which only just occurred to me, is that sometimes people will post about a thing and ask "Is this something I should call a lawyer over?" and the answer they get is "A lawyer will laugh so long and hard at you for thinking this is the sort of thing they should handle." So maybe it's not so unexpected that people come to AskMe first? For us non-law-people, it is not always obvious what needs a lawyer and what doesn't.
posted by KathrynT at 5:04 PM on June 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Or the reverse, where people post questions like, "I've heard I can write up this contract with a kit I bought at Office Max. Is that right?" and the lawyers-in-residence respond with weary sighs. There is a lot of wrong conventional wisdom about a lot of topics that people come to AskMe for validation of, and it is probably tedious for the experts among us to correct people over and over again, but it does good overall, in my opinion.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 5:22 PM on June 21, 2013


It would take me hours to refute all the misinformation in this thread: Lenovo T530 or Apple Macbook Pro Retina. Problem is I don't have an answer for the poster, so to refute things like, "Compare warranties. I don't think Apple has a warranty that covers the screen, and check on accidental damage," or "Switching from PC to Mac is a pain," or "The Lenovo can be used with a docking station. Big advantage for me."

I could pick apart the PC suggestions just as well, and I barely touched on the mac ones, but at the end of the day I don't give a shit which laptop this guy buys, so going in there and telling people, yes, the warranty does cover displays, switching is fucking easy and if it takes you more than 10 minutes get your niece to help you, it's easy to dock a thunderbolt mac just plug it into your monitor, etc. These comments will be removed since they are just arguing with the posters, so ignorance persists.
posted by cjorgensen at 5:39 PM on June 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


The most amazing ignorance that persists so far is that a ton of people seem to think answers which correct misinformation in other answers will be deleted.
posted by shakespeherian at 5:51 PM on June 21, 2013 [14 favorites]


"Switching from PC to Mac is a pain"

So this seems to me exactly the kind of statement where the experiences of non-experts does have a spot in the thread. If somebody wants to know the solution to some equation, I'm much more likely to offer a correct answer than a non-mathematician. But if somebody wants to know "I haven't taken math since I was in high school and I want to go back and learn algebra, is algebra hard?" I mean, sure, I can say "no, algebra's easy," and from my perspective, that's true, but how does that help the asker? Switching to a Mac was easy for me, too, but if other people find switching operating systems hard, it's hard, no matter what the experts say.

Let a hundred answers bloom, I say.
posted by escabeche at 6:21 PM on June 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Fair enough (on both).
posted by cjorgensen at 6:38 PM on June 21, 2013


everyone must rely on the so-called experts to solve all of our problems

Did you... did you just quote Sarah Palin?


Sarah Palin is a sad and misguided human being so I sincerely hope I was not. Ick.

My comment stems from a place of having been recently badly advised by a couple of medical professionals - and while the ultimate decisions were my own, I've had a shitty last couple of years because of it. I should have listened to myself and others around me who knew something was wrong, even though we didn't have peer-reviewed studies/degrees /licenses /credentials to back up our analysis of the situation. I should have also pushed harder against my doctors - but I didn't, because I thought: "they're the experts." Lesson learned.

As I said earlier, there are certainly times when consulting an expert is advisable and warranted. My only point is that it's important to realize that other perspectives can also be of just as much value.
posted by hapax_legomenon at 10:15 PM on June 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


> They are not "so-called experts". They are actual experts. Experts do not claim to be able to "solve all of your problems" or to be inerrant. However, an expert is your best bet to solve a problem in that expert's field of expertise. If I need a termite treatment for my home, I don't call a barber or a physician but an exterminator with the requisite expertise and experience to deal with the issue.

These experts are also "human beings," and have their own biases which affect the quality of their advice. This is also why we have so many questions from people trying to figure out if their doctor handwaved them without listening, or whether other people diagnosed with foo had similar symptoms. (If you are too fat or too skinny or the wrong gender to be a typical patient for foo, good luck getting a correct diagnosis off the bat.)

Likewise, if I want to know whether I need a termite treatment for my home, I don't actually blindly believe whatever plan the exterminator wants to sell me without doing some asking around from people who are not trying to sell me a termite treatment.
posted by desuetude at 12:05 AM on June 22, 2013 [5 favorites]


So this seems to me exactly the kind of statement where the experiences of non-experts does have a spot in the thread.

Sure, except (continuing in the Mac/PC vein) it's only been in the last couple of years that the "Macs can't right click" trope has died, and they've supported right click since the release of OS8 in 1997.

In no way am I arguing for any sort of system of formal recognition of experts. I think AskMe is, in general, as useful as it can be without making changes that would fundamentally change what it is. But consistent with that position is the reality that people who have no fucking clue what they're talking about will be given the same platform to speak as those who do. In most cases, the questions are low stakes and this isn't an issue. In some areas, it is, and that's just a necessary consequence of what AskMe is.
posted by SpiffyRob at 4:34 PM on June 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


These experts are also "human beings," and have their own biases which affect the quality of their advice.

Yes, they are human beings and therefore fallible. We've all heard about how Lord Kelvin said heavier-than-air aviation would never happen and a hundred other anecdotes about famous scientist who made blunders. So what? It does not then follow, however, that all experts can be safely ignored and you know just as much as they do because you've watched a TED talk.

Likewise, if I want to know whether I need a termite treatment for my home, I don't actually blindly believe whatever plan the exterminator wants to sell me without doing some asking around from people who are not trying to sell me a termite treatment.

You surely do not need to believe every sales pitch. However, who else is going to inspect your home to advise you about termite treatments other than someone who provides them at a cost? Most people, layman and experts, do not work for free.
posted by Tanizaki at 5:17 PM on June 22, 2013


You surely do not need to believe every sales pitch. However, who else is going to inspect your home to advise you about termite treatments other than someone who provides them at a cost? Most people, layman and experts, do not work for free.

In many cases, I expect the point of posting a question is to ask for and then presumably learn from other people's experiences. Not to expect them to be all-knowing experts, but rather to have them say, "this is what happened when I did X."
posted by zarq at 5:37 PM on June 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


What zarq says.

Expert opinions are important and valuable. But I like to hear from other laypersons as well.

When I had cancer, I saw a doctor and he treated me. That was valuable and important. I also talked to non-experts who had dealt with this particular cancer.

The doctor was cautious about discussing possible outcomes for my case. I asked a lot of very straightforward questions, and got a lot of carefully hedged answers that often didn't really inform me.

Other humans who had had this cancer were candid about their individual outcomes, and that helped me put together a general idea of what to expect and how to deal with it, and that was incredibly comforting and kept me from being a complete mess through the whole process. Even though not all of us had the same outcomes, I knew that other people had gotten through it, and things they had done to cope with certain frustrating parts of treatment. There's no way in hell my doctor (who was awesome) would have bothered (or have had time) to tell me: "When you go in for foo treatment, see if they will let you have your ipod - it helped me relax." Or "I was surprised at how difficult the biopsy was and I wish I hadn't arranged to go back to work afterwards." Or "Five years later you can barely see the scar, and I usually forget that I ever had cancer." All things I needed to hear.

So: experts are awesome. Non-experts can also be awesome.

OTOH, ask.me users can sometimes speak very authoritatively without providing context, and that can be confusing. Sometimes there's a terse, "Do this thing." With no context, no explanation, no hint of their experience. Have you made this subject your life's work? Are you a 12-grade student who just wrote a 3-page essay on bacteria? Did you post in this thread by accident?

In the end, the thing is: did the asker get the help they needed? I need both experts and non-experts for that. But I do like to know which is which.

In ask.me I try to remember to be frank about where my answer is coming from and whether my answer is based on personal experience, or google, or something I heard from my aunt who heard it from her hairdresser's boyfriend's plumber. I don't mind trying harder to remember to do this, and when I forget I don't mind if someone asks me for context.
posted by bunderful at 5:53 AM on June 23, 2013 [7 favorites]


Legal credentials are essentially useless unless you're in the practice area AND jurisdiction of the asker. I have been given legal "advice" by this credentialled OP that was incorrect at law, not to mention unresponsive to the question asked. Having some sort of upvoting system would be worse than useless in those situations, because it could create false confidence in an answer that would otherwise be viewed with a healthy and appropriate dose of skepticism.
posted by Pomo at 9:39 PM on June 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Some sort of points system would not solve the problems that arise when generally intelligent people decide to branch out and answer a question about something not in their wheelhouse, for example, lawyers giving medical advice, or doctors giving legal advice, or MeFites giving fashion advice.
posted by naoko at 11:59 AM on June 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


There are more lawyers on MetaFilter than there are mathematicians

There exist some mathematicians who will answer some math questions with a definite answer on Ask Mefi.

My conjecture is: There are no legal questions for which there exists a lawyer who will be willing to give a definite answer on Mefi other than "consult a lawyer".

If anyone can find a previous counter-example to the conjecture I'll be very interested and rather surprised.

Now for the non-math inclined, the conjecture asserts that given a question like "Is it legal to eat cereal for breakfast in California?" there does not exist any qualified lawyer who will be prepared to give a definite answer on Ask Mefi.

Examples of definite answers here would include for example: "Yes, it is legal", or "It is legal providing you own the cereal or have permission from the cereal owner", or "Eating cereal per se is not illegal, but the circumstances in which you eat it might be", or "Less than a millionth of a percent of instances of cereal eating have led to any legal action, so you are probably good to go, unless there are some strange circumstances here".

Basically any kind of answer that leaves open the possibility that it might well be reasonable to proceed (for example to eat cereal in California) *without* consulting a lawyer.

There is probably a fascinating article to be written about all this; maybe some lawyers and mathematicians could get together and write it.

Btw I'm hoping to see more answers in the future that go: "Please consult a mathematician".

DISCLAIMER: I forgot most of the math I used to know. Also, IANAL.
posted by philipy at 8:08 PM on June 30, 2013


My conjecture is: There are no legal questions for which there exists a lawyer who will be willing to give a definite answer on Mefi other than "consult a lawyer".

If anyone can find a previous counter-example to the conjecture I'll be very interested and rather surprised.


Here is just one of many examples. It's a question about whether or not public figures may publicly call for someone's death.

Now for the non-math inclined, the conjecture asserts that given a question like "Is it legal to eat cereal for breakfast in California?" there does not exist any qualified lawyer who will be prepared to give a definite answer on Ask Mefi.

There is a crucial distinction between legal information and legal advice.

Generally speaking, legal information is just that: information. Information is general. Information is not specific to you or specific to any particular case. For example, a Tenant's Rights packet is almost always just legal information - in this state, you have these rights, remember these phone numbers, etc. None of this information is particularized, although there may be some hypotheticals for illustrative purposes. Responsible information almost always includes a proviso saying that this information is not advice, if you have a problem get an attorney, blabbity-bloo.

Generally speaking, legal advice is when you apply legal information to facts and make statements which could reasonably cause someone to act in one way or another with regard to a legal outcome. For example, an email saying, "that sucks about your speeding ticket. Don't plead guilty, just make the appearance. If the cop doesn't show up, your case gets dismissed!" This statement assumes the veracity and completeness of certain information, and contains advice as to how to proceed on this matter.

For a more detailed example, if I tell you that the First Amendment protects, among other things, the "freedom of the press", then that's just information. If I tell you that the First Amendment's "freedom of the press" has been incorporated against the states, then that's still just information. If I tell you that this incorporation against the states of the "freedom of the press" means that the states cannot violate this freedom of the press, then that is also still just information.

However, if you post a question saying, "hey, I was arrested by the state for breaking this law, but I think this is a First Amendment issue and my rights are being infringed upon, what should I do," I should not tell you that, in light of all this information, you should perform action XYZ or not perform action ABC. That would be legal advice, because I'm applying information to facts and making statements which could cause you to act or not act in a certain way.

The reason why this would be wrong, aside from specific ethical and legal issues forbidding such reckless advice-giving, is because only a qualified lawyer representing you can effectively guide you through this process. In addition to specifically legal professional training and experience, a competent lawyer will know how to grill you personally for all the relevant information, how to coach your behavior through this process, how to deal with certain relevant people in your jurisdiction, etc. Your lawyer also has certain professional pressures: if s/he screws up, then s/he may face sanctions, or worse.

Anyway, getting back to your cereal example, it would be very easy for anyone, including a lawyer, to say that yes, one may eat cereal in California. That's just a call for information. However, if someone were to say, "I've been arrested for eating cereal, what should I do?", then the appropriate answer there would be to get a lawyer.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:21 AM on July 1, 2013


If you're ever really bored, philipy, you could check out a textbook for (legal) Professional Responsibility. They often contain numerous discussions of what we're talking about.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:24 AM on July 1, 2013


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