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Recently I encountered an SE-EE question that, to my mind, raised some ethical issues. Specifically, the question related to designing a constant-current source for making colloidal silver.

Question link here

My position on this is that in the context of this question, it’s not such a great leap to make that answering it would be abetting and promoting quack medicine, which at the very least is fraudulent if not unlawful. I feel that as an ethical answerer it’s a moral obligation to not answer, and discourage others from doing so. And I did exactly that.

Others felt that it’s a ‘clear engineering question’ and it’s not up to us as answerers to judge.

What say you, meta-SE?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Related: Do we have any guidelines toward weapons design?. Personal position: as long as answering the question is not illegal, we shouldn't have to care wether doing what is described in the question or answer is legal/safe/useful... or not. Now, if your own ethics tell you not to answer, that's perfectly fine, but this shouldn't be a reason to close/flag/delete/... A warning as a comment may make sense, though. \$\endgroup\$ – dim Mar 15 at 20:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ How do you know they are not a chemist or a DIY person that needs colloidal silver for some other reason? \$\endgroup\$ – Voltage Spike Apr 22 at 20:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ The OP's phrasing, level of expertise conveyed, the utter silence on their part at the pushback I and others gave challenging their intent. That, and simple statistics: I'd say it's a safe bet that well over 99% of the Internet discussion of colloidal silver, and especially how to make it at home, is for its use as quack medicine, and not for legitimate medical and industrial use. \$\endgroup\$ – hacktastical Apr 22 at 20:43
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If you feel that you have some ethical or moral obligation not to answer a question, then don't.

If you want to stop others from answering, you can cast a vote to close the question.

Then let the rest of us do as we see fit.

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    \$\begingroup\$ "Ayn Rand, Rand Paul, and Paul Ryan walk into a bar. The bartender serves them tainted alcohol because there are no regulations. They die." See, the problem is, by answering this question about colloidal silver, it's very likely the answerer is abetting a fraud. That's a legal issue as well. Although there are industrial uses for colloidal silver, considering the context and content of the question and the sheer volume of misinformation and fraud surrounding it, it's not a big leap to infer that the OP intends to make the stuff for quack medicine, with potential harm from it. \$\endgroup\$ – hacktastical Mar 16 at 21:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ @hacktastical If the union of everyone's morals will decide what is available for everyone else, there will be no content left. \$\endgroup\$ – pipe Mar 16 at 21:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ That’s a naïve if not disingenuous argument that is so easily undercut it’s laughable. Whether you realize it or not, ethics always come into play when answering (or asking) a question on SE. For example, we aggressively shut down homework questions when the OP clearly has made no effort. That, in a way, is shutting down a fraud. You’ve done it, and so have I. This is not so different: making an ethical choice to not perpetuate a fraud. \$\endgroup\$ – hacktastical Mar 16 at 22:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ And the phrase ‘if you feel’ is a very much a wishy-washy cop-out. It’s not about what I or anyone else feels. It’s about promoting good science and discouraging widely-discredited ‘alternative medicine’ quackery that’s neither safe or effective. \$\endgroup\$ – hacktastical Mar 16 at 22:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ @hacktastical It's definitely what you feel. You have written several long comments and one question about an issue that should have been a simple close vote, so you obviously feel very strongly about this. Homework question are closed because they are bad questions, not because of ethics. "Write this code for me" are also closed when they are from professional programmers. \$\endgroup\$ – pipe Mar 17 at 17:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ I have a point of view about the issue, yes. But don’t confuse or conflate the issue with your projection of my feelings about it. That’s lame. \$\endgroup\$ – hacktastical Mar 18 at 4:03

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