About ten years back, I posted to a discussion on medieval poisons and poisoning. That discussion, prompted by the sort of question we routinely get asked here ("What fast-acting poisons might have been used in medieval times?) was archived on a webpage somewhere. (As it happens, without my knowledge or permission, although I'd probably have granted it if asked.)
A few years later, a complete stranger emailed me, out of the blue, because she believed her husband was poisoning her and she wanted my opinion on her symptoms. What made this especially
creepy was that amongst the usual generic "I don't feel well, but I get better when he's away" stuff, she mentioned that her eyes were smelling of garlic. Not the sort of thing the average hypochondriac would make up, and it's one of the tell-tale signs of arsenic poisoning.
Maybe she'd researched the symptoms of arsenic poisoning and then mailed me, pretending ignorance and wanting attention. Maybe she really was
being poisoned. Either way, she badly needed professional help - maybe a toxicologist and a cop, maybe a psychiatrist. I'm not qualified as any of those things; while I have a doctorate in a medical field and a fair bit of medical trivia, I'm not a medical doctor either. In the end I told her "Might be arsenic poisoning, keep hair samples if you have any and go talk to a doctor or the police about this ASAP". But I would've been a lot happier, and she'd probably have done just as well, if she'd gone there in the first place. (I never did find out how that ended, because she stopped mailing me back after that; she told me she'd kept the hair that fell out when she was ill, so if it was
arsenic poisoning she should've had good evidence for it.)
What I learned from that is that even when a question's asked for purely hypothetical purposes, to add realism to a story, and it's answered in the same vein, there is still the possibility that somebody else looking for real-world advice will seize on that. This can be a very dangerous thing, because the standard of advice that's adequate for writing fiction is very different from that required IRL. To pick a recent example, I'm quite happy to tell somebody writing a story "if you want to control pain with opium, an 80 mg dose is plausible", but this is just a typical number. IRL, there are a lot of atypical people, and blindly applying that sort of advice can very well kill somebody.
(Not to mention that many of the things that are explained here are illegal and/or immoral IRL, and we don't always know that the information is going to be used for its stated purpose - how would we feel if weise
had come on here looking for information on police procedures for school shootings, for instance?)
So, getting around to the point at last: would it be a good idea to have a disclaimer in the community info? Something along these lines, maybe:Information provided in this community is offered as a service to authors trying to write credible fiction. It should not be used as a substitute for professional legal/medical/scientific/etc advice in real-world situations, and its accuracy is not guaranteed. Material on illegal activities is likewise presented only for fictional purposes. Don't try this at home.