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I haven't seen a disclaimer on a stack exchange site before; but a lot of the answers given on this site could constitute "professional advice", although I doubt anyone would intend them as such.

Would it be a good idea to add a catch-all disclaimer to the footer of the site to clarify this position?

Something like:

Disclaimer : The information on this website does not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of any associated companies. Neither should any suggestions or advice contained on this website be relied upon in place of professional advice. You are responsible for checking the accuracy of relevant facts and opinions given on this website before entering into any commitment based upon them.

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    $\begingroup$ Not a bad idea, considering people may be creating and stamping designs based on information obtained here. $\endgroup$ – jmpreiks Jan 21 '15 at 14:26
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    $\begingroup$ I was thinking about this as well. A bad answer on here could cause serious injury or damage, and a standard disclaimer would probably not be a bad idea. $\endgroup$ – Trevor Archibald Jan 21 '15 at 14:28
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    $\begingroup$ FWIW, despite my belief that we do not need a disclaimer for the site, we can have a custom close reason to the effect of "This question requires professional engineering advice and is not able to be answered by this community." We likely will see questions where the correct answer is "hire a professional engineer and ask them." $\endgroup$ – user16 Jan 22 '15 at 15:43
  • $\begingroup$ I don't think wikipedia has any disclaimers $\endgroup$ – Mahendra Gunawardena Jan 25 '15 at 13:02
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    $\begingroup$ Related question at law.SE: What legal obligation does one's participation on Stack Exchange carry? $\endgroup$ – Chris Mueller Jun 16 '15 at 12:07
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    $\begingroup$ We are revisiting this subject due to a change in MSE guidance: meta.stackexchange.com/q/273794/194162 $\endgroup$ – user16 Jan 28 '16 at 15:58
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Historical Note: Due to semi-recent changes in MSE guidance, the Engineering.SE community is revisiting this question

The following is the original, accepted answer based upon earlier MSE guidance.


No, we don't need one.

The StackExchange Terms of Service already cover it.

  1. Warranty disclaimer
    To the fullest extent allowed by law, Stack Exchange disclaims any liability or responsibility for the accuracy, reliability, availability, completeness, legality or operability of the material or services provided on this Network. By using this Network, you acknowledge that Stack Exchange is not responsible or liable for any harm resulting from (1) use of the Network; (2) downloading information contained on the Network including but not limited to downloads of content posted by subscribers;

and

  1. Limitation of liability
    In no event shall Stack Exchange, its directors, officers, shareholders, employees, members, agents, consultants, contractors, partners, vendors and service providers (including, without limitation, hosting and telecommunications providers) be liable with respect to the Network or the Services for (a) any indirect, incidental, punitive, or consequential damages of any kind whatsoever;

And this has been hashed out a few times over on Meta.Stackexchange. I particularly like Shog's opening logic within his answer.

In my experience, giving folks who are already prone to arguing semantics more words to (mis-)interpret doesn't tend to lead anywhere good.


Individual contribution

Individuals are already protected with a disclaimer of liability through the Terms of Service. Emphasis added from previous quote of Section 9.

  1. Limitation of liability
    In no event shall Stack Exchange, its directors, officers, shareholders, employees, members, agents, consultants, contractors, partners, vendors and service providers (including, without limitation, hosting and telecommunications providers) be liable with respect to the Network or the Services for (a) any indirect, incidental, punitive, or consequential damages of any kind whatsoever;

Past-precedent:

Some sites, such as Mi Yodeya, have had disclaimers prominently focused on their site. See this meta.SE question for a screenshot of what it used to look like. However, that has since been removed.

This historical M.SE question shows a request for the disclaimer, and Atwood's response. I point this question out because that disclaimer is no longer on Mi Yodeya.


Additional Meta StackExchange references

Not surprisingly, this subject has been discussed a lot by the network. The answer that keeps coming back is that the Terms of Service already cover the disclaimer.


"But we're different!"1

To an extent, this is true. Licensed, professional engineers exist and many countries have laws regulating the practice of Engineering. But Engineering isn't the only field that's regulated. Medicine, Finance, and Law, are other fields that are regulated.

Questions pertaining to those disciplines regularly come up on other Stack Exchange sites that do not have their own disclaimers. Insisting on Engineering.SE being different and that it needs to have its own disclaimer potentially sets a precedent that implies other aspects of the StackExchange Terms of Service not applying to this site.

I think that's a bad precedent to set, and I don't believe Engineering.SE needs a disclaimer.

1 Being engineers, yes, yes indeed we're different. But that's not really relevant to this question. :-)

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  • $\begingroup$ And before someone protests that "We're different", other SE sites provide guidance on heavily regulated or sensitive areas like PCI compliance and handling financial transactions correctly. $\endgroup$ – user16 Jan 22 '15 at 14:33
  • $\begingroup$ Does that not just disclaim Stack Exchange, and not the person who gave you the advice? $\endgroup$ – thomasmichaelwallace Jan 22 '15 at 14:45
  • $\begingroup$ @thomasmichaelwallace - Hopefully my edit addresses your question. $\endgroup$ – user16 Jan 22 '15 at 15:37
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I would suggest to rephrase it in a more optimistic way, since this site aims to give professional/expert answers for enginnering questions.

Disclaimer:

Engineering.SE is a community driven question & answer site which aims to be as professional as possible in its quality. Nevertheless, you are responsible for checking the accuracy of relevant facts and opinions given on this website before entering into any commitment based upon them. Please see the general Terms of Service of stackexchange.com for legal information.

Although it should be common sense to crosscheck and validate the Information you're gathering for a specific problem. Anyway, in this case, the opinion of the moderators should be taken into account.

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  • $\begingroup$ Common sense it may be but common sense is rarely common! I know my PI wouldn't cover an answer here, and I would hate someone to use Stack Exchange in lieu of an actual engineer! $\endgroup$ – thomasmichaelwallace Jan 22 '15 at 8:21
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Note: Glen's answer has convinced me that we don't need a diclaimer; I'm keeping this answer because it may contain useful links.


I'll go with . . . yes. And I've actually seen a pseudo-disclaimer or two on SE.

Biology has something like one, though as a close reason. I don't have close privileges on that site and so can't give the exact transcript, but a proposed message was

Personal medical questions and health advice are off-topic on Biology. We can not safely answer questions for your specific situation and you should always consult a doctor for medical advice.

That seems to work. And it's been cited (at least once) on meta. Yes, I saw that conflict develop; no, I don't want to get anywhere near the rest of it here.

There's also been an Area 52 discussion along the same lines for the Law proposal. In it, Isaac Moses cites one from Mi Yodeya. A "previous incarnation" of the site used:

Like Wikipedia, mi.yodeya makes no guarantee of validity, and does not offer professional (particularly rabbinic) advice. Treat mi.yodeya information like it came from a crowd of your friends.

Though from what I've been able to figure out, the wording has changed.

So yes, I think a disclaimer would be good, and yes, it works on other SE sites. Your suggestion is good, though if we could maybe make it more engineering-specific (?), it would be even better.

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  • $\begingroup$ Do you think making it more specific will make it better? I should confess that the disclaimer itself is almost straight from the New Civil Engineer magazine; as i repurposed it for another project of mine. $\endgroup$ – thomasmichaelwallace Jan 22 '15 at 7:27
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Another Site

In general, I agree that we shouldn't need a disclaimer. That lasted until I saw that Law.SE has a disclaimer.

The disclaimer there is:

Law Stack Exchange is for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for individualized advice from a qualified legal practitioner. Communications on Law Stack Exchange are not privileged communications and do not create an attorney-client relationship.

Except for the last bit about attorney-client stuff, Engineers face similar issues with giving free advice. Engineering is equally as regulated of a profession. And engineering doesn't come with built-in legal council to defend against frivolous lawsuits!

The general disclaimer linked from that blurb is equally good:

The information, advice, links and/or any other materials (“Content”) made available through Law Stack Exchange (the “Site”) are for informational purposes only and are not a substitute for professional legal advice or consultation. You should contact a qualified licensed attorney to obtain advice with respect to any important legal issue or problem. Do not disregard or delay in obtaining professional advice based on any Content from the Site. Content may not be complete, correct, or up to date, and some Content may be obtained or provided without proper citation or review. Content made available through the Site does not represent endorsements or recommendations by Stack Exchange or other users. Use of and access to the Site or any Content on the Site, or any of the e-mail, website, social media or other like links contained within the Site, do not create an attorney-client relationship between those posing or responding to inquiries, or any other users, even if licensed individuals in the corresponding fields are involved in such use. Further, these are not privileged communication or attorney work product, and no right to privacy exists. Any opinions expressed are the opinions of the individual author and may not reflect the opinions of Stack Exchange, or other users. All users of the Site relinquish any or all claims against Stack Exchange, the party providing the Content, and any other users that may arise from reliance on any information obtained from the Site. Reliance on any information appearing on the Site is solely at your own risk.

What We Should Do

We should take Law.SE's disclaimer completely and change the specific bits from talking about law and attorneys to engineering and Engineers. If it was created by a bunch of lawyers, it has to be better than your average bunch of engineers can put together.

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